Monday, September 19, 2005

Roy’s “Dissent” explained

From Dissent the Blog:

Origins

Dissent the Blog is a continuation of a series of newsletters that I wrote and distributed at Irvine Valley College, and sometimes at Saddleback College, starting in 1997.

Before that, starting in late 1996, I wrote numerous "letters to the editor" to the O.C. Reg, the L.A. Times, the Irvine World News, and the Lariat. These letters expressed outrage at the conduct of the faculty union and its newly-paid-for "Board Majority" (Steve Frogue, John Williams, Teddi Lorch, and Dorothy Fortune). Other faculty, including IVC writing instructor Lisa Alvarez, wrote similar letters.

Gradually, starting in early 1997, as displeasure with the union's "Board Majority" grew, I distributed fliers and newsletters. These were discrete productions--ununified by any name. Some simply gathered together news articles. Others presented research, analysis and commentary.

Some of these early issues were distributed during board meetings, held in those days in a cramped room on the bottom floor of the Utt Library.

By May of 1997, I had joined others at IVC in demanding that the board of trustees cease violating California's "Brown Act" (the open meetings law). I had become the Chair of the School of Humanities and Languages at Irvine Valley College, and so I decided to put out a school newsletter. One issue, in May, presented transcripts of remarks made during the raucous May board meeting. Another issue, from June 12, 1997, included information about the CTA's efforts to reform the faculty union.

The School Chairs were of course fired en masse in mid-July of 1997 as part of the infamous--and, as it turns out, illegal--"Reorg."

I continued to put out newsletters.

I seem to have published the first 'Vine in July of 1997 (possibly earlier). It had a snazzy header, declaring that it was the "School of Humanities and Languages Unofficial Newsletter." I started to use the pseudonym "Chunk Wheeler," a name from Bauer family history.

A typical issue, e.g., the one dated 12/7/97, describes Trustee Steve Frogue's "remarkable lecture on bureaucracies and information"; Chancellor Lombardi's discussion of the "Chair model" of governance; and Trustee Hueter's efforts to state the "obvious to the oblivious"; etc.

In another issue from about that time, I first presented graphics of Trustee Steve Frogue as a monster and referred to the "Evil of Froguenstein," a concept later borrowed by the OC Weekly for its cover story.

I seem to have commenced numbering issues of the 'Vine on July 6, 1998. The last 'Vine (#19), was published in April of 2000.

Early on, my good friend Rebel Girl (aka Lisa Alvarez) became involved in these publications, writing thoughtful pieces and participating in the ongoing conversation about the newsletter's meaning and direction. To a lesser but significant extent,  adjunct writing instructor Red Emma (aka Andrew Tonkovich), too, became involved, usually writing funny and acerbic pieces, such as the popular "Ask Miss Fortune" series.

(Note: I sometimes used the pseudonym "Big Bill," a reference to a famous American labor leader. My use of this name evidently inspired the silly rumor that a certain IVC instructor named "Bill" was writing for Dissent/Vine. No, that Bill has never had any involvement with our publications.)

Clearly, much of our writing--especially Red's and mine--was satirical, it's meaning transparent to all but the illiterate. The latter group is larger than you'd think, evidently.

By February of 1998, I decided to start another newsletter--one for a broader audience. The Reb suggested the name "Dissent." OK, I said.

Dissent 1 was published on March 2, 1998. It announced: "The document you now hold in your hand is the first issue of a new union newsletter. It is produced by members of the SOCCCDFA who are outraged by the FA’s leadership and its odious alliances."

Soon thereafter, as I recall, we described Dissent as a "district" newsletter as distinct from the 'Vine, an Irvine Valley College newsletter.

Dissent did not particularly focus on the union or union issues. It kept track of the entire Board-union-Mathur Axis.

From the beginning, I did the graphics, the physical layout, and production. Reb and Red contributed pieces. Reb and I continually discussed Dissent's content and direction. We were a good team. Several others occasionally contributed to the newsletters, but always the core of Dissent was the Reb and me (with regular contributions from Red Emma).

By late 1998, the two newsletters were well known within the district. People seemed to like them or even love them. UCI hotshots became fans. Buster the cat indicated approval. Even the new Chancellor, Cedric Sampson, always seemed pleased to get his copy, which I handed to him personally in his office atop the Utt Library.

Naturally, the faculty union and "its" trustees hated these newsletters. So did Raghu P. Mathur, the conniving and ruthless President of IVC who was a key member of the union insider group that had engineered the rise of the Board Majority. Our newsletters focused upon the board and Mathur's  incompetence, ruthlessness, and corruption.

We were careful to be factual, if sometimes satirical.

Suddenly, in December of 1998, I was informed by the Chancellor that, in his judgment, my newsletters had violated two of the district's policies: workplace violence and discrimination! (Two of the elements cited in the Chancellor's letter/action were actually written by Red Emma.) I was ordered to go to "anger management" counseling. Since this action boiled down to a very negative letter in my file, it was reasonable to view it as a threat to my employment.

This move against me was largely engineered by Mathur with the support of his trustee friends. I doubt that it originated with Sampson, who had never indicated any displeasure with Dissent or 'Vine to me.

But, now, Sampson had been given his orders. The action became his action, and, when it went south, he seemed to take it badly.

I got a good First Amendment lawyer (Carol Sobel, an old acquaintance of the Reb's) and took the matter to court, where, through a series of rulings, I prevailed. Including the district's appeal, the litigation took about two years. From the start, the courts recognized the essence of the situation: that I was calling powerful people out on their corruption and incompetence, and they were responding by trumping up charges against me. In the end, Judge Feess opined that this whole business amounted to an attempt by the district to silence a "vigorous critic." He advised the union, the board, et al., to get used to "life under the First Amendment."

Throughout this time, we continued to write and publish just as we had before. The 'Vine was eventually abandoned in favor of Dissent. It did well, but, despite my victories in court, maintaining Dissent became a burden, in part because I sensed that our critical voices seemed only to make it easier for colleagues to remain silent. This has been an ongoing complaint.

The last issue of Dissent (Dissent 67, April 14, 2003) focused on the two Academic Senates' lawsuit concerning the district unilateral, and, as it turns out, illegal, imposition of a faculty hiring policy. The senates, especially IVC's, had entered a golden era of competent and significant leadership. (It was to last until early 2009 or so.)

A couple of years later, the Reb and I noticed the "blog" phenomenon. Long story short: on Monday, September 19, 2005, she created and then provided the first post of Dissent the Blog. it was entitled, We're Baaaaack!

There, Reb announced:
Rudely awakened from our undogmatic slumber by obscene administrative salaries, stunning political betrayals and our love of the Spanish people, the ace reporters of Dissent have returned to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
That was all the encouragement I needed, evidently. Dissent the Blog was born.

From the beginning, we attracted the attention of the media, especially the independent media. We were the first to report on several stories that "went big." Meanwhile, our readership grew.

At this point, DtB seems to be doing all right. We have more daily readers than ever.

Nevertheless, on any given day, I could drop the damned thing like a bad habit (something more than one of my significant others' have declared it to be). I often announce that I will do just that. Such efforts never seem to take somehow.

Invariably, the Reb advocates heroic continuation while I routinely threaten disgusted retirement. In truth, she is DtB's ever-passionate radical heart; I am its cautious and compromising brain, always unsure that our efforts are worthwhile or are even helpful.

With regard to the quality of DtB, the ongoing tension regarding effort and significance is probably a good thing.

For now, DtB persists, always a millimeter from permanent disgusted abandonment.

Oh yeah. Here's a list of some Dissentular "Hey, look at this!" mischief over the years:
• The "Conspiracy-Nut College Trustee Invites Holocaust Deniers to Forum" brouhaha (hinging on a heads-up to an ADL official, plus timely follow-up with the press)
• The "Serial Brown-Act Violating Nut-Board" reveal (brought to you by a small crew, including plaintiff, Mr. Dissent)
• The "Right-wing Nutjob College Trustee Nixes Spain Study Abroad" circus (transcripts-to-reporter, followed by smoking-gun video hand-delivered to drooling OC Register, plus timely press priming and prompting)
• The "Goofy Administrator Nixes Iraq War Talk (& then retires with Super-Pension)" boob parade (brought to light by a small crew of appalled faculty, including one media-savvy Dissenter)
• The "Dissenter Kicks Anti-Free-Speech District Butt in Federal Court" saga (in truth, Raghu and his clueless pals deserve most of the credit for this one)
• The "Loony Community College Republico-Administrators Pursue Building Hotel/Entertainment Complex w/ Daft Nonagenarian" embarrassment (once again, carefully timed phone calls to media contacts; just add water, makes it's own sauce!)
• And so much more!
More recently, we have focused on Mr. Williams and his curious conduct. We'll see where that goes. It could go "pop."

It is my hope that these often lurid media punctuations served to bring harsh truths to light and thereby thwarted the unfortunate impulses and lessened the harm of the clueless and the ruthless.

I should mention that the Dissent crew have always taken their duties as professionals and members of the college community very seriously, quietly contributing their share to the larger effort to build and protect a decent college environment. We do believe in community colleges and we want our college(s) to fulfill their ample promise.
--Roy Bauer (aka "Chunk Wheeler,""B. von Traven"), February, 2010.