Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Campus Mourns Phil Lopez

Phil Lopez

On the evening of December 14, Southwestern College lost one of its most visible icons. Philip Lopez, English professor and longtime union crusader, died of a sudden, massive heart attack minutes after being admitted to Sharp Hospital in Chula Vista. It was the day before his 65th birthday.

By all accounts his death was unexpected. He had spent the afternoon in what were described as successful negotiations between the faculty union and the college administration.

Kathleen Canney Lopez, professor of computer information systems who describes herself as “Phil’s former wife and his comrade,” said Lopez sat down at his Chula Vista home with a stack of paperwork. Feeling chest pains, he took aspirin and called 911. It took only minutes for the paramedics to arrive. He was rushed into the hospital and died there less than two minutes later.

“It was quick,” Canney Lopez said. “It was painless.”

Gay-Straight Alliance Works to Create Tolerance, Respect

It is a truth that many young people use college to examine their sense of identity for the first time. In doing so, some students explore their sexual identity and discover they cannot identify with a heterosexual lifestyle. Instead, they come to the realization that they are part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) culture.

Realizing and accepting this proves difficult for many students. They often need a support web of friends and family that understand this situation. At Southwestern College, students will find the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) is there to help them.

That is, of course, if the students can actually find where they meet.

Alan Wade, adjunct professor of English and the club’s faculty adviser, said that GSA met in a different room every semester and it was rarely ever the same place. He called it “room limbo.”

“We have to get a new room every time,” he said. “Though we do get one at some point. There has been trouble this semester with scheduling conflicts. Right now we meet in front of Jason’s coffee cart. That’s our place when we don’t have a place.”

Cost-Saving Measure May Reduce Library Hours

*By Nickolas Furr, Stephen Uhl, and Paulina Briseño

 On January 14, when students return to the Southwestern College campus for classes, they will find the library open 14 fewer hours than it is today. Due to brutal budget cuts and rampant state fiscal problems, the administration has been forced to cut the available hours for staff, and library personnel have been forced to close their doors earlier and keep them closed all weekend. As a result, frustration has begun to bloom in every campus group – students, classified employees, faculty members, administrators and the governing board. And now, frustration is beginning to blossom into full-blown anger.

But the anger is unfocused, with no one particular group for the others to be angry at.

In 2011, California community colleges suffered a $502 million cut to help staunch the loss of blood flowing from the state’s bank accounts. This past November, with another round of cuts looming – an additional $300 million statewide – voters passed Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to channel taxpayer money into funding schools and community colleges. This is expected to minimize the damage schools will take, but the fiscal ship can’t turn on a dime. It needs time to turn around. Until then, SWC will suffer another round of cuts, and the library remains a casualty of these cuts.

Humberto Peraza, SWC governing board vice president, said the damage could have been far worse, but it was still going to force changes.

“We went from a $12 million cut to a $6 million cut because of Prop 30, which has helped a lot,” he said. “But this is still significant. Almost everything we do, no matter what we do, a $6 million cut is going to directly impact students.”

Students Feel the Heat Waiting on Maintenance

It is not unusual for a Southwestern College maintenance request to sit for a few weeks or a month. An air conditioning issue in room 429, however, went for more than five years without resolution, causing faculty and students to get overheated.

Room 429, a reading classroom located in the Academic Success Center, has some folks hot under the collar.

John Brown, SWC’s facilities director, insists everything is taken care of. Faculty who use the sweltering room have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

“It appears there have been multiple and varied problems over the years with HVAC [Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning] in building 420, impacting room 429,” he said. “It appears maintenance had addressed those as they have come up, which is not unusual, and Dr. Levine is now personally satisfied with the current conditions.”

Dr. Joel Levine, dean of the School and Language and Literature, said he was not personally satisfied.

“I saw Gus [Frederick “Gus” Latham, maintenance supervisor] this morning and he’s not 100 percent satisfied,” Levine said. “He felt pretty good about it and thought they had taken care of it. But the test remains to see what it’s like after a lot of students had been in there for a while on a reasonably warm day.”
Levin, Latham and many others insist there is reason to be cynical after five-plus years of room 429 as a hot topic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Entire Campus, Our Entire Nation is Free Speech Area (Unsigned Editorial)

Art by Adrian Martinez

“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
– George Orwell

After a pitched, four-year battle on the Southwestern College campus to throw off a previous administration’s strangulating “Free Speech Area,” some folks on campus have inexplicably resumed referring to the little patch of concrete west of the cafeteria by the same name.


When warriors fight and bleed to win freedoms, nothing infuriates them more than having someone else casually give them back. Warriors feel insulted. And why not? They are being insulted. The message is, nothing you did then matters to us now.

During the turbulent years of the Chopra regime, “Free Speech Area” was used to describe the covered patio just west of the cafeteria. It was also the way administration segregated students from society and took away their rights. To protest, speak out or register students to vote, we were sent to the “Free Speech Area.” If we wandered away, they would come down on us hard.

Student Workers Take Salary Reduction

Faculty and staff voted to take a 5 percent pay cut last spring to prevent more class cuts. Student workers on campus also took a pay cut, but never got a chance to vote. Some insist they were never told.

There is also confusion about what college records say students are making and what they are actually paid. Students, like employees, are making 5 percent less, but official college payroll records do not reflect the pay reductions.

One student, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had worked at the Academic Success Center (ASC) for years. According to payroll records he is making $11 per hour. In reality, after the cut, he is paid $10.45 an hour. He said the monthly contract he must sign to keep his job stipulates he will be paid at his original rate of $11 even though he is actually making $10.45.

“Every month we sign our HRTs (Human Resource Transactions), the form which shows how many hours we worked and what our rate of pay is,” he said. “Every month I signed that timesheet at the beginning of the month, and again it said I would be paid $11 per hour.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Campus Mourns Professor

*Article by Albert Fulcher and Nickolas Furr; Photos by Nickolas Furr and Pablo Gandara Giza

Axa Negron-Schnorr / Photo: Furr
Michael Schnorr’s world-famous murals in Chicano Park tower over the small but revered piece of tierra santa that was once the epicenter of the Chicano Rights Movement and is the globe’s greatest outdoor Latino art gallery. His ambitious Dia de Los Muertos pieces span hundreds of yards of the Tijuana side of the border fence, warning would-be crossers that el norte can be peligroso for migrants.

Not bad for an Anglo man and Muslim convert.

America’s burgeoning border art community lost a visionary pioneer in July when Schnorr jumped from the same Coronado Bridge that features his stunning murals. His suicide shocked and saddened legions of admirers, including hundreds at Chicano Park who gathered for an emotional memorial. Schnorr had recently retired as a Southwestern art professor after 39 years.
Bob Filner / Photo: Furr

Art major David Bonafede said he was devastated by the news of Schnorr’s death and that Schnorr remains a teacher, mentor and friend in his heart.

“No matter how hard or how easy you think something is, he always made you look at things from a different perspective,” he said. “He never let you quit and he always made you finish.”

Bonafede said he did a biography on Schnorr for his art history class and came to know his mentor well. He said he loved not only his art, but also his sense of humor.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Melbourn's Storm" to be Published in Lore Magazine

Some of you already know this, but some of you don’t: my short story, “Melbourn’s Storm” will be published in the September 2012 issue of LORE magazine.

That makes that my first paid professional fiction sale. And yeah, I’m pretty over-the-moon happy about it.

Not this issue. The next one. 
But instead of strutting around and crowing about what a great job I did on this magnificent piece of literature… I’d rather thank the many people who took time and effort to help me turn this slightly odd piece of dark fantasy fiction into what it is now.

“Melbourn’s Storm” gave me fits and nearly drove me around the bend, but in the end I was lucky. I had friends who read the different versions, offered feedback and criticism, and gave me instructions on how to improve it. I always said I’d thank them, and this seems the best way to do it.

First of all, thanks to the members of North County Writers of Speculative Fiction, who were the first folks I shared the story with – and who immediately put me to work improving it:  Meghan “M.O.” Muriel, Rilan White, Stephen Prosapio, Melinda Layden, Linda Lee Franson, Gregg Pirazzini, and Alix Lamb.

Secondly, I want to thank both Tony Durham and Casey Oliver for being the first folks on this blog to say, “That’s pretty good, but…” This was only Tony’s first help with this, and Casey remains the one online-only friend who offered to help.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"A Year in Ink, Vol. 4" Wins Best Anthology/Collection at San Diego Book Awards

My short story, "Ploughman," is one of the many excellent short stories in this book.

It's an excellent feeling to be part of an award-winning anthology. That's about all I have to say about that. Winners listed here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"A Year in Ink, Vol. 4" Nominated for San Diego Book Award

Last year, the good folks at San Diego Writers, Ink. published its annual anthology, A Year in Ink, Vol. 4. I had submitted a piece and was delighted that it was accepted.

I just found out that a couple weeks ago, the San Diego Book Awards Association nominated Year in Ink for a 2012 award: Published Anthology/Short Story Collection.

If I seem ridiculously pleased, it's because one of my short stories is in an award-nominated anthology - and the award is being given by a serious literary association.

You can bet me a buck that's going in my new submission cover letters. Hopefully I'll have to change that to "award-winning."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

College Files Suit Against Contractors

*By Nickolas Furr and Mary York

Citing legal questions, monetary compensation and issues of principle, the Southwestern College Governing Board voted unanimously to file lawsuits against three California construction and architecture firms that had been awarded contracts from the college during the administration of former Superintendent Raj K. Chopra. Following charges of bribery and corruption by the San Diego County District Attorney, the college severed ties with the firms, and none of them have worked on campus since January.

A board statement said litigation would “include challenges to the procurement of contracts related to the Corner Lot project,” and the conduct of the firms that were involved: Seville Construction Services (SCS), Echo Pacific Construction and architects Bunton Clifford Associates (BCA).

The $55 million project, the showpiece of SWC’s $389 million Proposition R construction bond, has been a lightning rod of controversy since its groundbreaking ceremony in October 2010. In the year and a half since then, no actual construction has occurred on the seven-acre lot. The empty parcel of bare ground has continued to garner unwanted attention from the citizens of South Bay, the media and the district attorney.

Lost Boys

*By Nickolas Furr and Paola Gonzalez

Alephonsion Deng was living joys of childhood. Life was simple for a boy from a large family in the village of Duou, Sudan.

“It was a huge family,” he said. “I was a happy kid, just like any other kid. I’d wake up in the morning, play with my friends and come back later in the evening, exhausted. My mother would bathe me and feed me. There was no education. The education that I had was my father telling me stories or my mother telling me stories.”

Harmony was destroyed one fateful day in 1989 when fire poured in from the sky and his village was engulfed in the Second Sudanese Civil War.

“All that I knew one day fell apart when the army came to our village and started shooting everybody,” he said. “Shooting animals, killing people. They set houses on fire. Some people died. I ran for my life. We ran for our lives. I thought I was going to see my family again, but I never did.”

Writing Center Mourns Loss of Talented Tutor Crystal Veytia

Crystal Veytia

Crystal Veytia was living the life she wanted when she boarded a Moscow train to her teaching job one final time. Happy and upbeat as she headed to work, Veytia, 28, experienced a sudden cardiac arrest and died. The Moscow Metro operator stopped the train to let paramedics board, but it was too late.

From 2005 until 2011 Veytia was an institution at the SWC Writing Center and a tutor known for her easy rapport with fellow students, her big laugh and her insistence on spending as much time with each student as she could. After the Chula Vista resident earned her bachelor’s degree in English at SDSU, she decided to go abroad to teach.

Andrew Rempt, professor of English and director of the Academic Success Center, said she had not originally planned to teach in Russia.

“She was going to teach English in Japan, which is a lovely idea,” he said. “Then she got to LAX the day of the March 2011 earthquake. She was ready to get on the plane but was told, ‘No. The flight’s canceled. There’s a massive earthquake and tsunami there.’”

It could have been much worse, said Laura Brooks, Veytia’s close friend and fellow SWC tutor. It might have been, had she not had a history of being chronically tardy.

College for Kids a Gateway to Higher Education

Photo: Serina Duarte
Most kids make up their minds about going to college while they are in elementary school, research shows. College for Kids has been convincing youngsters for 38 years.

For many Southwestern College students, employees, administrators and faculty members, the first step they took on the road to higher education was with SWC’s summer College for Kids program. Now in its 38th year, it has given at least two generations of South County residents their first taste of classes on a college campus. Steve Tadlock, director of College for Kids, said the parents of students attending this summer were often students who attended in previous years.

“Darnell Cherry, the College for Kids coordinator and the SWC women’s basketball coach, and I were outside talking about CFK,” Tadlock said. “A father standing in line to register his son said, ‘I took a photography class through CFK years ago. It really helped me. I went on, took more classes, and now I’ve won several awards for my photographs. I think what helped me the most is when I took that class in College for Kids way back when’.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Investigator Finds More Alioto Gifts

One year after it began in secret, an internal investigation of Proposition R and the Southwestern College Education Foundation made public this last week revealed some bombshells about the Foundation, but little new evidence of construction corruption.

The review, first reported in The Sun last March, was authorized to investigate the procurement process and the rewarding of contracts for Prop R construction projects, as well as questions surrounding SWC Foundation fundraising and expenditures. The final results of the review were sent to the office of San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis one day earlier to be used in her ongoing investigation of corruption at SWC and the Sweetwater Union High School District. SWC has been working cooperatively with the D.A. since January 2011 soon after a new majority took control of the governing board.

“We need to take a new look at Proposition R,” said Norma Hernandez, governing board president. “This is part of our commitment to ensure the public’s money is used most appropriately and effectively to achieve our goals of educational excellence, institutional integrity and transparency.”

D.A. Raids Homes of Salcido, Dominguez

*By Mary York and Nickolas Furr

Pearl Quinones (L) and Yolanda Salcido (R) / Photo: Christopher Martinez
Agents of the San Diego County District Attorney raided the homes of the former Southwestern College governing board members Yolanda Salcido and Dr. Jorge Dominguez. Tuesday morning, the latest in a series of law enforcement actions involving SWC and Sweetwater Union High School District board members and administrators. In December the DA raided the homes of seven educators and a construction company executive. Five were charged with multiple felonies including bribery, influencing public officials and perjury.

Dominguez said his Jamul home was searched at 8 a.m. and insisted he does not know why he was targeted.

“They’re coming to the end of their search for evidence,” he said. “I think I’m just at the end of that trail. I can’t blame people because they don’t know I’m innocent. They’re just doing their job.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

College Needs to Remain Transparent (Unsigned Editorial)

Art by Carlos Magana
*Written by Albert Fulcher and Nickolas Furr

Southwestern College’s season in Hell is over, but the door of Hades has been left cracked open. Three new trustees are working feverishly to close it once and for all.
Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Humberto Peraza have the courage and vision to end SWC’s suffering and steer the college into an age of rebirth. Part of their wisdom is their understanding that the college has to come clean and put all of the misdeeds of the past out into the light before SWC can really be free.

Our college suffered on all levels – academically, administratively, publicly and politically – when SWC’s previous administration chose to erect walls of secrecy and chicanery. Backed by a dysfunctional 4-1 governing board majority, the prior administration’s lack of transparency and blatant secrecy from 2007 – 2010 disgusted the entire community, leading to a toxic atmosphere that has proved epically destructive.

Building Contracts Canceled

Photo: Christopher Martinez
Two weeks after Southwestern College’s governing board suspended all contracts with Seville Construction Services and Bunton Clifford Associates (BCA), the board terminated its relationships with the two construction firms involved in a pay-for-play controversy that has so far led to 26 felony indictments of South Bay education officials. Following a closed-door session on January 25, Governing Board President Norma Hernandez made the announcement to the public.

“The board took action … to sever the contractual relationships with Seville Construction Services and BCA architects, reserving all rights of the college,” she said.

In response, Seville released a statement that read, “Seville Construction Services and Southwestern Community College District representatives are working toward a mutual solution to dissolve a contractual relationship. We believe SCS has operated and acted in good faith throughout our relationship with the district. The independent actions of individuals previously involved with the program, including a former employee who was terminated a year ago for inappropriate actions that included violation of our corporate code of conduct, are negatively affecting both organizations and the community. It is important to note that the former employee is facing criminal charges for alleged actions while employed elsewhere, not SCS, on an unrelated project, not the college district.”

Sweetwater Trustees Won't Get Legal Fees

*By Mary York and Nickolas Furr

Sofia Reyes / Photo: Christopher Soto
Sweetwater Union High School District trustees decided to take no action on a controversial agenda item that would have granted $1.3 million in legal fees to four trustees who have been under investigation by the San Diego County District Attorney in the South Bay pay-to-play scandal. Trustees let the agenda item die without motions at the end of a volatile seven-hour meeting.

Nearly 800 people packed the Hilltop High School gymnasium and sat on folding chairsand wobbly bleachers shouting “Shame! Shame!” and holding up signs with doctored photos of trustees behind prison bars. On the agenda were items to grant $400,000 each to indicated Sweetwater trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quiñones as well as former trustee Greg Sandoval. A fourth item sought $100,000 for trustee Bertha López whose home was searched by the district attorney but who has not been charged. Former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara was also indicted and has legal fees guaranteed in his severance package. Gandara was fired in June, 2011. DA investigators also searched the homes of former Southwestern College administrators Nicholas Alioto and John Wilson. They have not been indicted, though District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said more indictments were possible.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Board Suspends Construction Contracts with Seville, BCA

Exactly one week after San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced indictments against four members of the Sweetwater Union High School District and a construction executive, the Southwestern College governing board suspended all construction contracts with Pasadena-based Seville Construction Services and San Jose-based architecture firm Bunton Clifford Associates (BCA). Among the five indicted was Henry Amigable, who until December 2010 was Seville’s SWC project manager overseeing Proposition R construction. Total value of the contracts is $59 million.

Board president Norma Hernandez announced that the board decided to “…take all steps necessary to immediately suspend existing construction contracts with Seville Construction Services and BCA Architects.”
Dr. Melinda Nish, SWC’s new superintendent/president, issued a statement the next day on behalf of Hernandez.

“The board’s action was based on the district’s ongoing internal review and the San Diego County District Attorney’s investigation,” read the statement. “The board’s action was deemed to be the most appropriate and responsible decision to take at this time.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Column in Jackson Free Press - "The Gold Standard"

I left Jackson in 2008 and knew I'd miss it. I'd miss the people, the music, the arts scene, the Crossroads Film Festival, the parades, Hal & Mal's—all of that. But fortune sent me west to settle near San Diego, in what the natives call the South Bay, a multicultural swath between the big city and Tijuana, Mexico. For all of its dynamism, its culture and its multifaceted personality, this whole area—in fact, much of San Diego—leaves me thinking about some of the best things in Jackson that I miss most.

I have woken up in the middle of the night craving a burger. Not just any burger, but a huge Stamps turkey burger. I haven't eaten beef in over a decade, but I love a good turkey burger. For my money, that's the best there is, particularly if you include the sweet potato fries. I'm told that Stamps is now Cool Al's. I don't know if it's the same, but I do know that it would be the first or second place I'd eat if I came back.

Here, just north of Mexico, tamales are as common as tacos and served by the dozen. They're traditional: pork or chicken wrapped in masa and served in cornhusks—boring. I want tamales served up Mississippi-style, smaller and spicier and crafted from cornmeal and Delta blues. I want it served up with pico de gallo, sour cream and sweet-corn sauce. I want tamales from Walker's Drive-In. I don't care what else I get there; it's all wonderful. But I want tamales with it.