Wow. This is … wow.
Four professors at Southwestern College, a community college in Chula Vista, California, have been suspended from their jobs and barred from campus — apparently for supporting a peaceful student budget protest.
The protest took place last Thursday, and drew the participation of several hundred SWC students. By Friday, the four professors had all received letters saying that they had been suspended effective immediately. The letters suggested that each of the four had violated a California state law prohibiting the willful disruption of “the orderly operation of the campus.”
English Professor Philip Lopez, the president of the college’s faculty union and one of the four suspended professors said he had been given no clear explanation for his suspension, but was sure it was an act of retaliation for the protest. “Clearly,” he told Inside Higher Ed, “the administration doesn’t think there is such a thing as the First Amendment.”
Another of the suspended professors, creative writing instructor Andrew Rempt, told the San Diego Union Tribune that the college’s head of human resources showed up at his home on Thursday evening with a police officer in tow to deliver his suspension letter by hand.
The president of the college, Raj K. Chopra, is on vacation, and the position of college spokesperson is currently vacant. Inside Higher Ed was unable to reach any other college official for an explanation of their action.
Update | A short, cryptic statement from Chopra’s executive assistant claims that the university is conducting an “investigation” of a matter “unrelated to the student rally.”
Second Update | This story keeps getting weirder. According to the blog Save Our Southwestern College, Chopra and HR director Jackie Osborne both went on vacation on Friday morning, hours after putting the faculty suspensions into effect. Chopra is expected to be gone from campus for three weeks.
Third Update | A post at Save Our Southwestern College identifies all four suspended professors. An anonymous comment on that post states that three of the four suspended professors participated in the budget rally, and that the suspension of the fourth was lifted when it was learned that she had not been in attendance at the protest. That commenter also claims that “at least one student … has received a letter warning him of the consequences of speaking out at SWC.”
Fourth Update | In a new interview with a local television station, targeted professor Philip Lopez calls the suspensions an act of “union busting,” and says all four profs were critics of Chopra’s policies.
Tuesday Update | As noted at the top of this story, I’ve now written a follow-up post with new details and links.