Spirits Rising at Southwestern College after President Resigns under Free-Speech Cloud

December 3, 2010

We reported yesterday that the president of California’s Southwestern College (SWC), Raj K. Chopra, abruptly resigned on November 30 under a cloud of free-speech controversy. His administration shamelessly suspended four faculty members (later reduced to three) for their part in a protest that strayed beyond the school’s unconstitutional "free speech patio," and then refused either to abolish or to suspend enforcement of the policy, despite numerous letters from FIRE and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties warning him that he had subjected SWC to increasingly likely litigation.

Following Chopra’s resignation from SWC, Professor Elizabeth Smith captures the spirit of the season in a letter to FIRE:

On October 25th of 2009, Southwestern College was in an uproar. Four respected faculty members had been suspended for being in the vicinity of a student protest. The student protest was over massive and unnecessary class cuts, and one of the professors had been in her classroom at the time she was said to have been at the rally "inciting a riot," but these facts didn’t seem to matter. Students and employees of Southwestern College were risking retaliation from our Superintendent/President and Governing Board when we attempted to exercise our rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The reports that appeared in some news outlets failed to recognize the damage being done to our rights and our school.

And then a community member mentioned an organization called FIRE. As far as I know, that was the first that any of us had heard of you. We soon discovered that your attention to what was happening at Southwestern College would make a big difference. Suddenly, our administration’s ability to indulge in vendettas was limited by the attention that came with national scrutiny-and your group’s extensive knowledge of legal precedent. After much hard work by many people, we succeeded in replacing two of our Governing Board members. As you know we received the welcome news today that our Superintendent President resigned! While we breathe a sigh of relief, and continue the work of rebuilding our school, I just wanted to let you know what a huge difference your involvement made. Thank you very much for your timely, dedicated and knowledgeable help.

And Happy Ex-Superintendent/President’s Day!

Thanks, Professor Smith!

Schools:  Southwestern College

Cases:  Southwestern College: Professors Banned from Campus after Students Stray Beyond ‘Free Speech Patio’