Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Life at Santa Monica College

This is an editorial about "My Life at Santa Monica College." Due to my legal and media background, I am very interested in being part of the solution rather than just a person who complains about the problems of wasteful spending of our tax dollars and the horrible condition of our current state deficit. This blog and the opinions I express are not meant to defame the good name of Santa Monica College but, instead, as a technological vehicle to freely express concerns which I feel need to be addressed in a public forum which will reach the greatest number of interested parties. My hero's journey is one is in which I want all of you who love SMC to share with me. I quote an excerpt from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland":

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well....

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--' (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `--yes, that's about the right distance--but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Presently she began again. `I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think--' (she was rather glad there was no one listening, this time, as it didn't sound at all the right word) `--but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma'am, is this New Zealand or Australia?' (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke--fancy curtseying as you're falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) `And what an ignorant little girl she'll think me for asking! No, it'll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.'

Down, down, down.

You, dear readers and fellow SMC students, are my companions on this perilous journey deep down into the rabbit hole which, like Alice in Wonderland, we now all fall, fall, fall...

As a student at
Santa Monica Community College (SMC), I have also firsthand experienced the rise in tuition and the cancellation of much needed classes with professors which I respect. While working as a teaching assistant at SMC, I also became privy to information and documentation which pointed to wasteful, negligent, and highly questionable spending practices at SMC which were confirmed in the 2004 less than stellar accreditation report received that year. When I began to formally write and speak out about some of the problems I saw, I was threatened with arrest, not paid for my work as a teaching assistant, and left with little choice but to leave school for the spring semester. I was further informed, in writing, that I no longer had privileges to use the school's computer lab facilities by Dean Katharine Muller.

Jim Keeshen, the AET animation professor I once worked with and befriended, has told me on differing occasions that I am "scaring the hell" out of everyone at SMC with my CPRA request and that I have "poisoned the water" for everyone who works at SMC and that I should "drop everything" and "just disappear" and that I should "tread lightly" and "be careful" as I was "stirring a lot of big mucky mucks here."

Furthermore, Jim Keeshen confirmed that he was blackmailed to write an untrue and defamatory statement against me that I had made death threats to several staff members at SMC and that if he did not comply, he would lose his job and that he was now the "sacrificial lamb" who was "just waiting for the axe to fall" at SMC. He also informed me that he didn't care about Julie Yarrish, Katharine Muller and Judith Penchansky and that he has "to live with them as we're swimming in the same pond." But isn't this a "mucky" pond in which they now remain stagnant? (It reminds me of the classic line in the film, Erin Brokovich, in which Julia Roberts triumphantly states: "By the way, we had that water brought in special for you folks!")

The day after I wrote a
whistleblowing correspondence to an SMC Corsair student reporter with my well-documented allegations and legitimate questioning of missing funds in the computer equipment purchases at school with Dell, my copyrighted History of Animation website was allegedly taken off my server and infringed by SMC, with my name and copyrights removed and a modified pirated website uploaded to the school's server. After absence of copyright registration and ownership by SMC and a long paper trail and pounding of the pavement on my part, the infringing website was removed. Yet, when I sought public records under the CPRA, it was back online again on SMC's server around October 2005 and then removed under more written and oral complaints by me and my attorneys.

Also, around June 2005, questioning SMC's unfounded retaliation against me, I began to diligently "follow the money" and dig into the financial expenditures of the school and even obtain my own confidential "
deep throat" informants in true Watergate fashion who pointed me in the right direction and vehemently supported my efforts to make Santa Monica College Administration accountable to our public fisc. Even SMC's first webpages announcing the Academy of Entertainment and Technology instructed me in their hyperlink to "Click for the Money"! I guess SMC had money to spare back in the summer of 1997... not anymore.

I clicked away with my trusty mouse, through late night hours of SMC Board of Trustee Minutes and well-hidden agendas and through dusty years of long forgotten webpages documenting the rise and fall of Santa Monica College and its satellite Academy campus. What I found brought me to question the people who ran my school and to delve deeper into how one goes about accessing public information. Either through an act of fate or the hands of God, I was guided to the information pertaining to the California Public Records Act.

Shortly, thereafter, myself and several other students who supported me, began to request public records belonging to SMC under the CPRA. First, orally, then periodically via written requests for both inspection and production. I was met with more attempts at arresting me and other students for simply walking into an SMC office requesting public records inspection, more copyright infringement, more false allegations, threats of suspension from school, threats that charges would be filed against me by SMC by and through the District Attorney's office, threats to the lawyers that I retained that they would also face sanctions by the State Bar of California. One student who was with me, confined to a wheelchair, was simply waiting for an appointment to inspect a grant for disabled students and was threatened with arrest if she did not leave immediately!

That never happened to Erin Brokovich when she sought public records from a California water department. I guess we aren't as attractive and persuasive as she or her screen avatar, Julia Roberts, was or else I just woke up like Neo in "The Matrix" to the real world where the threshold guardians of SMC are allegedly attempting to conceal something which now appears to be of vital interest to the public and, as such, should be promptly disclosed.

When my attorneys and I filed suit under the CPRA to compel disclosure, the school even threatened arrest to my process server and the school photojournalist. A criminal report against them was filed with campus police and I and another student also have such reports on records for doing nothing but respectfully serving written requests for public records. The attorney for the District,
Robert Sammis, has instructed me that I am not to contact anyone at SMC for public records and that all requests should filter through him. However, he has not returned my emails requesting production and inspection of public records and a rather questionable "disciplinary" hold as been placed on my student enrollment for the Winter and Spring 2006 semesters.

I feel that this enrollment hold is a violation to my rights to a public education as I am a student in good standing at SMC and that it is a violation of constitutional rights under the California Public Records Act and as codified in the California Constitution. Furthermore, I contend that this hold is retaliatory and in violation of my rights to free speech and press on and off the SMC campus, not only constitutionally, but pursuant to SMC's own internal
Student Bill of Rights. The Preamble to SMC's Student Bill of Rights (BP 4410) clearly states:

Academic institutions exist for the transmission of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of students, and the general well-being of society. Free inquiry and free expression are indispensable to the attainment of these goals. As members of the academic community, students should be encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment and to engage in a sustained and independent search for truth.

Based on all the CPRA lawsuits filed against public entities, are there any out there which actually put our hard-earned money to good use? When we strive to be the guardians of accountability, which the administrators of our public institutions should be but are not, why are we suddenly seen as the messenger to punish rather than the lightbearer of truth and free inquiry?

SMC's last archived webpages pertaining to the newly created Academy of Entertainment & Technology announcing my opportunity to "Click for the Money" also urged in the end not to "step on my Blue Suede Shoes." SMC would benefit greatly from following its own advice.

Here is the ending of their well-propagandized campaign for the Academy straight from their archived June 19, 1997 webpage:

It's one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go!
But don't you step on my Blue Suede Shoes.
You can do anything but lay off my Blue Suede Shoes.

Seen Elvis around lately?

If Elvis is lingering around Santa Monica College, he'll probably be found inside a campus security cell being chastised by Officer Willie Malone for attempting to obtain public records from the school.

-- Des Manttari
Editor-in-Chief
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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