Calif. college newspaper adviser loses form of compensation

CALIFORNIA — Southerwestern College newspaper adviser MaxBranscomb lost compensation he would have received for advising the paperbecause of what the governing board calls “double dipping,” but whatthe faculty union president calls retaliation resulting from controversialarticles.

The compensation lost was in the form of reassigned time, which is awardedto faculty members at Southwestern who do extra work in addition to teachingclasses; it allows them to teach one less class per semester to budget theirtime elsewhere, according to Faculty Union President Philip Lopez. 

Branscomb’s reassigned time was eliminated last year, even though he putsin up to 70 hours per week advising The Southwestern Sun, SouthwesternCollege’s award-winning newspaper. He was accused of “doubledipping” by the governing board, Lopez said, because in addition toreassigned time, Branscomb also receives a $2,500 a year stipend for being thenewspaper adviser.

“I was being investigated for being paid twice,”Branscomb said. “They said they want to make sure we have a fair systemfor everyone.”

During the ’08-’09 academic year, The Sun publishedseveral articles critical of the superintendent/president and the governingboard. Both Branscomb and Lopez said they think the reassigned time waseliminated in reaction to the articles.

“Last spring I was handing out programs for scholarships at anassembly and [Vice President Mark Meadows] grabbed my hand really tight andpulled me next to him and said, ‘you and I must have a serious talk …I’ve got some serious concerns about your behavior.’ And he keptpulling my hand tight. He said, ‘You’re on a path ofself-destruction and there’s nothing I can do to save you. I know you canbe a good boy and your students like you, but you are going to destroyyourself.’ I think that was the first real clue that he was going to startmessing with me.”

The Student Press Law Center did not reach Meadows by press time.

Lopez tried to bring the issue to the governing board’s agenda threedifferent times, and it kept getting rejected; even when Lopez filed a formalwritten request. Then in August the governing board agreed to hear it as adiscussion topic only, and not as an “action” item. So the governingboard made a motion to reverse the decision and ultimately voted not to act onit, Lopez said.

As far as double dipping is concerned, he and Branscomb would actuallyprefer to have reassigned time over a stipend, since Branscomb puts in much morethan the extra seven hours a week reassigned time would allot him, Lopezsaid.

California college student publications are protected by California’sstudent free expression law in Section 66301 of California’s educationcode, said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center.It also protects advisers from retaliation. The law states, “An employeeshall not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, orotherwise retaliated against solely for acting to protect a student engaged inconduct authorized under this section, or refusing to infringe upon conduct thatis protected by this section, the First Amendment to the United StatesConstitution, or Section 2 of Article I of the CaliforniaConstitution.”

“Either through explicit evidence or a pattern of behavior, if[Branscomb] can demonstrate that his reassigned time being eliminated ismotivated by a dislike of what students have [written] then he’d have acase under the education code,” Goldstein said.

The additional cost of reassigned time is the cost of the adjunct teacherwho replaces the original professor. But the irony of the situation, Lopez said,is that Southwestern is in the process of eliminating 19 to 26 percent of itsclasses, and the classes that get cut are the ones that get taught by adjunctfaculty members. If the cost of reassigned time is the cost of adjunctreplacements, then the additional cost actually amounts to zero.

Lopez said he is proud of The Sun‘s and Branscomb’sawards that seem to counter Southwestern’s shabby reputation.

“Max has won dozens of awards,” Lopez said. “Here we arecompeting with the reputation of being “a high school with ashtrays” and winning. That should be something the governing board and thesuperintendent president should be proud of and announcing. [Max is] way belowthe average, spends way more time, and [his reassigned time] still gets cutanyway, when he’s doing this outstanding work.”

Branscomb is worried about how losing his reassigned time will affectThe Sun.

“It’s tough because every class I teach I want to do itwell,” Branscomb said. “I was already spending sometimes up to 70hours a week on the newspaper. This is just another straw in the camel’sback. It’s been challenging. It takes away the meaty part of the day whenI want to work with my journalism students because I have to teach the otherclass.”