Tuesday, November 21, 2006

eCollege ET61 History of Animation Online Scam

So far, we've written three articles on Santa Monica College's Online History of Animation course (ET61), offered through smconline.org and eCollege. We have discussed how AET Professor James (Jim) Keeshen tampered with online quizzes, concealed vital public records regarding the webpages that linked to the overpriced required CD-ROMS, and how Professor Keeshen is no longer allowed to teach the course due to repeated copyright infringement legal issues. We've even made two handy charts, which you can view HERE.

The course is now taught by SMC Professor Nancy Paris Poirier, who had traditionally taught the class during the Winter and Summer intersessions. As a stockholder of eCollege (ECLG) and a former teaching assistant to Jim Keeshen for many semesters, I am very knowledgeable about this course. Rather than take the time to improve the course, Professor Poirier (in my opinion) has completely abandoned her professional academic responsibilities to her students and, as a result, the course is a complete sham.

Paris Poirier and SMC ET61 History of Animation Online Together as a team, Professor Jim Keeshen and I improved the course for the students so that they would have a rich online educational experience and we even worked together on a ground version of the course that was highly popular among the students at the Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET). Rather than be grateful for our efforts, SMC's self-serving administration would rather pit us against each other at the expense of the students. SMC's administration, however, despite drastically lowering the quality of this online educational experience, doesn't blink an eye as they rake in all those online fees they generate from this course. In fact, through deceptive advertising, SMC is able to get a good number of students, both internationally and locally, to enroll in this course, as a creative and underhanded way to recover its
failing enrollment. Remember that in the article we did about SMC's enrollment recovery efforts, that the school mentioned its aggressive marketing efforts via online course offerings.

As usual, we've made a handy
online chart so that you can see for yourself what you would get for your money as a prospective student interested in this class. These screenshots were made between August 28, 2006 (the first day of the course) and November 21, 2006. All links and references to screenshots refer to this online chart.

The ET61 online course for fall 2006 (section 2125) is advertised as a 16-week course, starting on August 28, 2006 and ending on December 16, 2006 (screenshot 01). Historically, it has been offered as an 8-week course. Despite the promise of a full semester, the student still receives only 3 units. For Spring 2007, SMC advertises online that its ET61 online course is an 8-week course, starting mid-semester on or about April 16, 2007 and completing on or about June 8, 2007.

This fall semester, approximately 35 students signed up for the ET61 class. In order to keep those enrollment numbers high, SMC gives the illusion right off the bat that this course is in fact legitimate. The course also can't be too difficult, as SMC does not want students to drop until after the administration locks down those enrollment numbers on its course roster. So, the first week is a nice easy assignment where the students simply respond in a threaded discussion about themselves and their interests in animation. Most of the students complete this assignment within the first week and Professor Poirier responds with quick comments to the students' threads. So far, so good. The students are pretty eager to interact with their professor, as is expected in any college course, online or otherwise.

Each week in the course corresponds to one unit, with nice little tabs to the left. Students are expected to complete the coursework within that week's time. Since Professor Keeshen tampered with the online quizzes, providing unlimited time and unlimited chances to take the quizzes as well as answers to the tests, the quizzes have now been removed from the course. Less work for Poirier and less of a standardized criteria to measure student success. Instead of the quizzes, students post in an online journal about an animated television show they are expected to watch throughout the semester. However, by the fifth week of the course, this assignment has completely vaporized. The only thing really left is the threaded discussion.

After that first week, the course makes its slow and inevitable plunge into online oblivion. Professor Poirier has all but completely vanished off the students' radar, leaving them confused, unmotivated, and unstructured. As her announcements show, she only appears to make three directives to her students, to inform them that there is a film screening, to give them a midterm essay assignment (due October 20th) and to finally inform them of a final exam (due on the last day of the course, December 16th). Her most recent announcement was posted yesterday, November 20, 2006. (screenshot 02).

At this point, Professor Poirier was forced to crawl out of the woodwork after many students started posting in the Unit 5 threaded discussion about why they hadn't heard from their instructor and why they have not received any grades, except for the midterm (screenshot 03). Even this was a very feeble clarification on Poirier's part as these students posted these concerns in late October and it took Poirier a month to post an announcement about the final. To this date, 13 weeks into the 16 week course, Poirier has yet to respond to any of the other unit's threaded discussions nor has she allegedly graded the students threads or journal entries up to this point, leaving the students unsure of where they stand gradewise in the course. According to confidential sources, Poirier hasn't even returned students' email inquiries about the status of the course or their grades.

But it gets worse. Although this course is advertised as a 16-week course with a final exam the last week, the course units mysteriously vanish after week 8. As the screenshots reveal, unit 6's threaded discussion instructs students only to return to units 1 through 5 and post comments. The journal assignment is no longer required. Week 7 and 8 shows even further deterioration, with only a link to a "lecture" for each of these units. (screenshot 04). By week 9 of the course, the students started posting their concerns about the lack of grading, the missing assignments, and the fact that there were no more units to explore.

Unit 8 is even worse than Unit 7 as the "lecture" link is merely a list of hyperlinks to the alleged lectures for the course. However, these links are not in fact lectures that the students can read, but dead links to the webpages that SMC had copyright infringed and deceitfully stolen and placed on their own server. Since they have been removed after a legal battle, the links don't work. Why are these webpage links even still online? Is SMC planning to once again infringe on copyrighted work? (screenshot 06).

Those aren't the only dead hyperlinks students will find throughout the course. The actual course lectures (created about six years ago) have not been updated, so many of the links within the lectures are broken and outdated. The real media player with streaming video of Professor Jim Keeshen talking about animation is also outdated, barely audible and visible. (screenshot 05). To add insult to injury, the students are expected to pay well over $100 (including tax) for a two CD-ROM History of Animation set (directed by none other than James Keeshen) along with the required textbooks. Suddenly, this course is becoming quite expensive when you factor in either renting the animation the student is required to watch or actually buying the animation.

And what does the student get for these overpriced ET61 CDs that have become little more useful than beer coasters? One gets to hyperlink to outdated flimsy webpages with more dead hyperlinks. Well, the links are exactly dead; they take the student to outside advertisements completely unrelated to animation. We've included one webpage from each of the two CD-ROMs as illustrative of our point. (screenshot 08).

So as a student enrolled in this online course, you've got streaming media that doesn't work properly, lectures with outdated hyperlinks, CD-ROMs with more outdated hyperlinks and webpages virtually devoid of any meaningful content, and a professor that provides no dialogue, interaction, or direction, along with basically no grades for your work. How motivated would you feel in that situation after all the money you shelled out for this course and all the online promises you were given that made you rush to sign up for the course in the first place?

As the Unit 1 through Unit 5 threaded discussions reveal, not very motivated at all. In fact, as the semester unfolded, the students progressively plunged into apathy. Let's break the semester down in a week-by-week playback as follows:

Week 2: Sept. 4-10: A handful of students respond in late August. However, many students respond in late September with students posting as late as November 9th. (screenshot 07).

Week 3: Sept. 11-17: Only 3 students complete the threads within the deadline. The rest post in late September and early October. Several students post in November. Some students post as late as November 19th.

Week 4: Sept. 18-24: Only 8 students complete the assignment within the deadline. Many post in mid to late October. Several students post as late as November 20th, approximately a month late.

Week 5: Sept. 25-Oct. 1: Only 1 single student completes this assignment on time! Many students post in late October and early November, with some students posting as late as November 20th.

As mentioned previously, by week 6, there are no more new threaded discussions, journal entry assignments, or CD-ROM assignments. It seems the CD-ROMs, despite their heavy price tags, don't even get the student through more than a few introductory weeks. With the advent of new technology, better computers and software, all the material on the CDs could have been placed online, saving the financially struggling students their hard earned cash. But it's never been about the students, but about what SMC's administrators can do to pull the wool over everyone's eyes and keep those enrollment numbers reeling in for the purpose of securing more and more funding for its outside consultants and project managers.

So, as a prospective student interested in the History of Animation, I would suggest not taking this course. Add up what it would cost you and go out and simply buy the animation DVDs (many of the classics can be found for a mere dollar at the 99 Cents Only Stores) or rent them and go online and do a google search for many websites that offer free information on the history of animation. You will learn equally as much or more about this fascinating subject and you won't feel that you've been taken in and scammed as some students now feel.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Angry Parents Censor Gay Penguins Children's Love Story

One can understand when concerned parents are up in arms about video game stores selling their impressionable children copies of the M-rated Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game. After all, the game had hidden sex scenes and plenty of graphic violence with firearms and gang violence. But parents at the Shiloh Elementary School who have criticized the school's administration for refusing to censor a controversial children's book about two male penguins who partnered to help incubate and successfully hatch a penguin egg is beyond comprehension. The parents complain that the book's content is unsuitable for children as it has homosexual overtones.

Book Cover for Tango Makes Three Controversial Childrens BookThe real life penguin family: Roy, Tango and Silo
From left to right: "And Tango Makes Three" Children's Book; The Real Life Penguins: Roy, Tango and Silo.

I agree with the school for standing by their policy not to sensor the book or move it to the mature reader section. This charming book, entitled "And Tango Makes Three" is written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson with watercolor illustrations by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, April 26 2005, ISBN 0-689-87845-1). These three men are not secretly conspiring to overturn American family values by inculcating our children with the alleged "evils" of homosexuality, but providing an artistic rendition of a true life story of two male Chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, who partnered together in 2004 New York's Central Park Zoo to hatch this egg. See the New York Times article,
Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name, dated February 7, 2004, which was the inspiration for this book.

These penguins shared a mutual experience in which they gave life to their species, far from their native home, in a man-made unnatural environment. This is a story of triumph, love, and life. Here's an excerpt from the book that shocks many fundamental Christian families:

Two penguins in the penguin house were a little bit different. One was named Roy and the other was named Silo. Roy and Silo were both boys. But they did everything together…They didn’t spend much time with the girl penguins and the girl penguins didn’t spend much time with them. Instead, Roy and Silo wound their necks around each other. Their keeper, Mr. Gramzay noticed the two penguins and thought to himself “They must be in love.”

One angry father has written on his blog, "Regardless, this book has been insidiously and deceitfully placed in libraries across America to re-educate young children to accept all families as valid, whether they have two mommies, two daddies, three daddies or three mommies and two daddies." Well, instead of lashing out with such anger, perhaps some of these parents should write their own children's book with the values to which they feel their children should be exposed. America seems to be a place of intolerance: hatred and violence against interracial marriages and gay marriages, anti-Semitism, and now even overt hostility against penguins that show affection for each other. There are no graphic sexual scenes in this book. The penguins merely "wound their necks around each other."

Furthermore, Tango was a female penguin, so there are no anti-female undertones to this children's story. Roy and Silo spent over two months caring for Tango after her birth. Furthermore, the zookeeper was not trying to encourage what many parents refer to as abnormal behavior, but helped to save Tango's life. Penguins can only care for one chicklet at a time. Since the female penguin had two eggs, she was forced to abandon one. Had the zookeeper not given this egg to Roy and Silo, Tango would have never experienced life or love.

Other zoos in New York, Germany, and Japan have reported same-sex penguin couples, both male and female. When the males pair, they often replace a stone for an egg and place it in a nest, unsuccessfully trying to incubate it. So, the story of Roy and Silo is not an isolated incident, but a very fascinating phenomenon. Why should children not read about this, especially since it might inspire a child to someday enter into the field of biology as a researcher to unlock this mystery? Apparently, Roy and Silo have maintained a monogamous loving relationship for nearly six years. How many of these angry parents can say the same thing about their own marital lives?

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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Friday, November 17, 2006

SMC Fiscal and Enrollment Recovery Problems

Thomas J. DonnerSMC has been plagued for many years with intertwined fiscal and enrollment recovery problems. On October 1, 2005, according to SMC's Missed Information Online, then Interim President for Santa Monica College, Thomas J. Donner (now retired) stated in relevant part:

Unfortunately, if we do not achieve [enrollment] recovery to the 2002-03 level, the college will have to cut into its contingency reserve. The worse case would be reducing it from $3.5 million, or 3.1 percent, to $2.5 million, or 2.2 percent.

According to the article, SMC's drastic cutting of classes back in the 2003-2004 school year resulted in a loss of 5000 FTES (full-time equivalent students). SMC's enrollment recovery plan included the following: "early registration, stepped-up marketing and advertising, more aggressive enrollment management, increased online courses, a doubling of the high school dual enrollment class offerings, and the return of select non-credit course offerings, such as ESL."

Santa Monica College's
Annual Report for 2003-2004, submitted to the SMC Board of Trustees on or about June 24, 2004, outlines the severe fiscal and enrollment problems the college has faced and the symbiotic relationship between the two as these pertinent excerpts reveal:

The 2003-04 fiscal year brought to Santa Monica College an intense roller coaster ride. The year began with a continuation of devastating state budget cuts – coupled with no new funds available from growth or from basic skills.

As a result, the year has included painful reductions in class offerings, academic programs, and staffing levels at SMC. Fortunately, the year ends on a note of re-growth and hope that a new administration in Sacramento is ushering in an era of respect for the invaluable contributions community colleges make to California. In between, there has been sweeping change in the state capital and a budget picture – though far from rosy – that at least begins to address the huge inequities in state funding of community colleges.

As of this writing, the state Legislature has still not passed a budget, so we do not know precisely what SMC’s funding will be.

Although the budget news has been mixed, the college has been energized over the past six months or so in its re-growth campaign. Under the state’s complex funding formula for community colleges, SMC must grow 3 percent in 2004-05 over 2002-03. If we don’t, we are penalized financially. Consequently, we have added about 750 course sections in fall 2004 and will plan for a similar increase in spring 2005, as well as nearly 200 more classes in winter 2005. It’s the equivalent of starting up a new college.

The equivalent of starting up a new college? Not knowing precisely what SMC's funding will be? Hmm... Precisely how much will SMC be "penalized financially"? SMC once again outlines its enrollment recovery strategy as follows:

We have stepped up our high school outreach efforts, including daily tours for high school groups. We have expanded and carefully targeted out-of-state and international student recruitment. We have moved up and streamlined our application process. We have implemented a major expansion of Financial Aid. And we have established a centrally located Welcome Center, to be open through Sept. 10, that will be a “one-stop shop” for enrollment, orientation, counseling, fee payment, financial aid and more.

Piedad RobertsonSMC states in its annual report that much of its financial fate lies in Sacramento. Of course to pave this inroad to the state capital, then President
Piedad Robertson formed a strategic alliance with Secretary of Education Richard Riordan as well as ensuring both SMC administrators Margaret Quinones and Benita Haley secured positions on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's prestigious Board of Governors (BOG). Riordan's relationship with Robertson continued to be a financially lucrative one for both long after Robertson's forced resignation from SMC in 2005. That same year that Robertson left SMC to assume power of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) in Denver, Colorado, Riordan gave the ECS $20,000.

SMC returned the financial favor on or about February 13, 2006, according to the SMC
Board of Trustee Minutes, when the college donated what is merely described as "surplus miscellaneous computer equipment" to the Riordan Foundation. It is not described with particularity precisely what equipment was donated and who made the decision that this computer equipment was in fact "surplus." Additionally, $6000 or 20% of Margaret Quinones' total campaign budget for her re-election to SMC's Board of Trustees came from Richard Riordan.

What is the current result of all of SMC's enrollment recovery efforts? According to the SMC Board of Trustee Minutes for September 13, 2006, enrollment is down by 3.5 percent compared to Fall 2005. According to the Superintendent's Report by President Chui L. Tsang, "great strides have been made and aggressive efforts are continuing to attract and retain students." There is no indication what SMC is actually doing to recover enrollment.

However, what is indicated in this Board of Trustees minutes is that the administration and the Board are again flowing tax dollars into yet another consultant contract. This time, the NTI Group, Inc. will receive between "$32,000 for 180,000 message units (including support fee)" for almost one entire year for the alleged purpose of recording and tracking thousands of voice messages "to improve student communication throughout the enrollment management process, providing opportunities to improve outreach and retention services through targeted messages, by telephone, to students." Additionally, in Spring 2007, the enrollment fee will be dropped from $27 per unit to $20 to further aid in luring prospective students to the college.

What does SMC's employees have to say about all this? According to an article in the Santa Monica College Mirror for May 2005 entitled
Celebrity Jeopardy, Phil Hendricks, SMC Payroll Specialist, and Carl Gettleman, SMC Academic Computing Instructional Specialist, made the following commentary:

Not content with having nearly plunged Santa Monica College into bankruptcy -- bucking the national tide by killing vocational education classes when other colleges were promoting them -- losing 6000 FTEs (students) and spending millions to partially recover enrollment -- getting the worst accreditation report in SMC history -- failing to conclude contract negotiations for nearly three years with classified staff and nearly a year with faculty -- winding up on the Chancellor’s fiscal watch list for the first time in SMC history (only one of three out of over 100 community colleges in the State) -- top-loading the organization with more administrative dead weight ($10 million worth) than the cemetery across the street -- dumping millions of dollars of inventory from the axed Automotive Program during a budget crisis -- buying millions of dollars of unusable software -- acquiring millions of dollars of unused property -- supporting a College President with a near unanimous disapproval rating, who deserted the ship she tried to scuttle when her ten years were up -- appointing a provost to a campus that doesn’t yet exist -- purchasing the most expensive equipment parking lot in the history of Santa Monica (14th and Pico) — building a million dollar driveway from bond money to access the increasingly contentious
Bundy campus -- inflicting the taxpayers of Santa Monica with $300 million worth of bond debt -- The Santa Monica Community College District has managed, against all odds and anyone’s comprehension, to surpass itself once again by inviting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the keynote speaker at the College’s 2005 graduation.

The Santa Monica Outlook also published a few negative editorials about SMC. In their online issue for September 30, 2003 entitled
Shattering Democratic Values and "Who's in Charge?", Phil Hendricks, President CSEA (Classified School Employees Association) Chapter 36 Santa Monica College wrote in relevant part:

The publicly elected SMC Board of Trustees continually proclaim, "It's about the students." Yet one of the most troubling aspects of recent votes by the Board isthe damage done to the SMC students. Any belief students may have had in the values of democracy have been shattered after observing the Board's performance.

While these same Board members blithely mouth their concern over students' low voter turnout and involvement in the democratic process, how can this Board have any doubt that its actions and inactions teach our students anything except that the process is rigged, that corruption, even when brought to light, dominates the American democratic process, and that individual action does not matter? Can students fail to learn that largely only those interested in milking the system for self-aggrandizement or personal advantage are interested in participating?

But the College Board is right about one thing -- it is about the students! SMC belongs to them. SMC belongs to the students, the community that paid for it, and those who built its reputation.

CSEA (the classified staff union) believes that the law has a meaning beyond mere words; that looking the other way while the current Administration knowingly makes misstatements is the mark of failure; that hiding a mountain of ethical and financial missteps behind a legitimate budget crisis is evidence of moral decay; that keeping quiet and not questioning is not the natural order; that win or lose, it is far better to take a stand, than to wring hands and say and do nothing.

Hendricks not only discusses the strife among the classified union with SMC's administration, but among the Associated Student Presidents and Student Trustees. He writes the following:

When Associated Student Presidents and Student Trustees have confided their disbelief, despair and rage at having been misused, misled, manipulated, and discounted by the Administration and the College Board, and ask us why, and what to do, and how to proceed, we counsel perseverance.

Ryan Flegal speaking to a female USC Student - circa 1999To show how low the SMC administration will stoop to any criticism about its operations, one merely needs to look at how this same administration uses its campus police department to silence its critics. According to district court records, on or about December 19, 1997, SMC Associated Student President Ryan Flegal (see photo: Flegal on far right) was working on student business when an SMC campus police officer threatened him with arrest if he did not leave his office. When Flegal requested, on or about December 23, 1997, the SMCPD's legal authority for such a wrongful act, he received no reply. Instead, on or about February 22, 1999, the SMCPD refused to allow the Associated Student representatives into their offices.

The situation escalated into full blown retaliation and malicious prosecution by the SMCPD, ratified by the SMC Administration and then President Piedad Robertson, when in late April 1998, the campus police actually arrested both Ryan Flegal and Konstantine Theoharis. Their crime? They were working late into the night in their Associated Student assigned offices to finish a report that was due the next day for the visiting California State Accreditation Team. Both Flegal and Theorharis eventually were victorious in their criminal cases against SMC. However, a month later on or about May 18, 1998, the SMCPD again wielded its unlawful power and arrested two other SMC student representatives, Sharon Lungo and Kelly Taylor.

It is important to point out the timeline here. When the first wrongful arrest against Flegal and Theoharis occurred on December 19, 1997, it was preceded by a letter Flegal wrote Robertson less than two weeks earlier. On or about December 10, 1997, Flegal, acting in his capacity as Associated Student President, wrote the following:

Dr. Robertson, you have blackmailed and extorted the students of [SMC] into funding your questionably legal account. You have threatened the students of this college with severe vindictive retaliation if we do what I believe is right and stop giving you a blank check to wine and dine employees of the district and buy yourself future favors with the money of starving students. Before I let you use another cent of the student's money, I want legal advice about your actions surrounding this account.

Robertson gave him her answer, a false arrest. Flegal was referring to Piedad Robertson's Slush Fund, known affectionately as the "President's Public Relations Account." of every $10.00 paid per semester by each SMC student for their A.S. fee, 50 cents went into Robertson's account to do as she pleased. [See:
First Amended Complaint for Damages, Injunctive and Declaratory Relief].

According to Carl Gettleman, Academic Computing Instructional Specialist for Santa Monica College, the president of the school is not supposed to be the sole authority. Rather, the college is required to participate in "shared governance." However, according to Gettleman, "there has been a near total breakdown of the system of governance at SMC." He further alleges that SMC's Board of Trustees did not exercise control over President Robertson, as it should have, but that she in fact controlled the Board. This has been confirmed in other SMC documents.

Gettlemen concludes his editorial with the following comments:

The College's mission is to educate students, yet there is no evidence that the President's approach to deficit reduction is the best way to adhere to that mission. Indeed, in the considered opinion of most of us who work here and who attend school here, it is not.

Most of the students at SMC will go on to work in one kind of organization or another. When that happens you will be quite concerned with how your employer manages the enterprise where you make your living. You will not like it when the Boss behaves like an absolute monarch and uses his or her power unfairly or unreasonably. Yet this is precisely what is happening here at the College where you are supposed to be getting an education. And frankly, it is a travesty.

SMC and Humpty DumptyFor more than a year, we've shown documentation that funds were hidden at Santa Monica College, that the SMC administration has retaliated against and violated the rights of its students, staff, and faculty for years on end, that SMC has been described in writing as a community of distrust and disrespect, and that it has failed on many levels to live up to its promises. Is it any wonder the administration cannot recover its enrollment? As the Mother Goose nursery rhyme goes:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Perhaps it is time for the SMC Administration and Board of Trustees to step aside and allow the faculty, staff, and students to share in governing the college.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sexual Assault on the Santa Monica College Campus

Here's a bit of history from uncovered legal findings that Santa Monica College would rather keep swept under the rug. On or about October 24, 1984, the California Court of Appeal released a published opinion [161 Cal. App.3d 734 (1984)] , denying Donald V. Cockburn's petition for a hearing with the Supreme Court. Cockburn had filed a lawsuit against the Santa Monica Community College Personnel Commission in Los Angeles Superior Court (No. WEC 078684). Cockburn had been terminated from his employment as an instructor at Santa Monica College. Why was Cockburn terminated from SMC?

According to court records, Donald Cockburn (the Petitioner) was employed by Santa Monica College as a "laboratory technician and instructor in the physical sciences department for approximately 17 years. His job included hiring and supervising student laboratory assistants." The Court records contend that Cockburn engaged in unwanted sexual advances to one of his SMC female student employees that constituted sexual assault. The Court states:

Duria Suncar, an 18 year old Oriental student at the college, asked respondent about employment as a lab assistant. On February 6, 1981, she was interviewed by respondent. A complaint filed with College on February 20, 1981, by Duria alleges the following occurred on February 6: "Complainant, Duria Suncar, was sent to be interviewed for work in the chemistry lab by Dell Wade in Financial Aids. [Respondent] met her and put her to work immediately washing beakers. He then asked her to come with him to the basement to do some work. In the basement he held her hand, asking how her hands felt washing all those dishes. He then grabbed her, holding her tightly. He kissed her on the cheek then on the mouth, saying afterwards, 'o.k., go to work.' Five or ten minutes later he tried to embrace her again. Complainant said 'no, I don't want to.' In about five minutes she told him she was leaving. She did not return. Two weeks later she returned to Financial Aids and asked for another job. She said she had not come back sooner because she was confused, and then told Ms [sic] Wade what had happened in the Chemistry lab."

On or about February 20, 1981, Suncar filed a sexual harassment complaint against Cockburn. Donald Cockburn admitted to the sexual assault against Suncar. The Court found:

The sexual assault outlined above was admitted by respondent and is fortified by abundant uncontradicted evidence.

On or about February 24, 1981, Cockburn was summoned to a meeting with SMC Dean of Human Resources
Dot Gelvin (1947-2004) and Richard Masada, chairman of the College's physical science department (retired June 2006), to discuss the complaint filed against him by Suncar. At this meeting, the Court wrote:

Respondent was advised that "this type of alleged conduct" was unprofessional, the authority in supervisory relationship was not to be abused, and told that his future job performance would be monitored.

A second meeting with the same three parties transpired less than two weeks later, on or about March 5, 1981. This meeting was memorialized in a March 6th document entitled "Permanent Employee -- Unsatisfactory Job Performance -- Second Notice." In the notice, Cockburn allegedly failed to comply with SMC's Merit System Rules, which clearly state: "All fellow employees must receive courteous treatment." The Appellate Court further went on to state:

"The additional improvement required [of respondent]: Student employees must be treated with respect. It is expected that all students employed in the physical science department will receive the same treatment. No behavior with sexual overtones will be permitted in the laboratory or basement stockroom areas." The notice went on to state: "Mr. Masada and Mrs. Gelvin will be available to discuss with respondent any situations that arise at any time. If there are difficulties which we cannot resolve or consider beyond our abilities, we shall assist [respondent] in finding appropriate counseling to deal with this problem.

Cockburn was warned that he must make immediate improvements in job performance or be subject to dismissal from the college. The second meeting, for failure to comply, led to the March 5, 1981 meeting. A third meeting was held on April 2, 1981. This time, Cockburn went up against not only Dean Gelvin and Chairman Masada, but SMC President Dr. Richard Moore, Dean Benita Haley, administrative dean of personnel services and SMC Sociology Professor Elizabeth Vance. During the meeting, Vance indicated that "similar complaints" had been lodged against Cockburn. So, why wasn't Cockburn removed from the campus immediately while an investigation was underway to protect its female students, especially since Cockburn had readily admitted to the sexual misconduct?

Dot GelvinBenita HaleyLynne BoylanRichard Masada
From left to right: Dot Gelvin, Benita Haley, Lynne Boylan, and Richard Masada.

Dr. Moore came on board as SMC's president in 1974 and was a staunch advocate of minority recruitment at the college. Since SMC student and complainant Duria Suncar was a minority student, she had the cards stacked in her favor. Dr. Moore eventually passed his presidential gavel in 1995 to
Piedad Robertson. Benita Haley is now on Schwarzenegger's Board of Governors (BOG) with SMC Board of Trustee Margaret Quinones. Haley had a strong hand in establishing SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET) vocational center.

The next day, on April 3, 1981, Dean Haley and Dr. Moore again met with Cockburn. Three days later, Cockburn received a letter from SMCCD, which stated in relevant part:

"I requested a meeting with you on April 3, 1981, as a result of a thorough review of your 'Unsatisfactory Job Performance -- Second Notice' signed on March 6, 1971. Dr. Richard Moore, superintendent and president attended our meeting.

"The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with you the topic of the unsatisfactory notice which was a complaint filed on February 20, 1981, by Duria Suncar, a student helper, describing sexual harassment.

"You were reminded that you have been made aware of 'over-familiarity with female student helpers' in a 'Notice of Need for Work Improvement' on October 20, 1977, and that this continued willful failure of good conduct tending to injure public service was a sufficient single cause for recommending your dismissal to the Board of Trustees. (Merit System Rule 5.1300.3-A) During the discussion that Dr. Moore and I had with you, you admitted that the complaint was an accurate account of what had occurred between Duria Suncar and yourself on Feb. 6, 1981 regretted the incident had ever occurred, stated no such actions with students had ever been taken by you before, and said nothing like that would occur again."

It is our decision that a recommendation will be made for your dismissal. However, Dr. Moore advised you that the recommendation to dismiss would be delayed for a two month period. During the next two months you are to have eight one-hour meetings with the college psychologist,
Dr. Lynne Boylan. The week of June 8 you are to make an appointment with Dr. Moore and me at which time a decision will be made regarding a recommendation for dismissal."

However, this was a potato too hot for Dr. Boylan to handle. So, less than a week later, on or about April 8, 1981, Boylan wrote Dean Haley, suggesting that Cockburn receive outside psychological counseling. Boylan recommended psychologist Dr. Marshall Levy. Before coming to SMC, Boylan had been employed at three mental institutions as well as the California State Prison for women. Boylan has taught most of the psychology courses at SMC. The alleged purpose of the regularly scheduled psychological consultations with Levy was to "rehabilitate" Cockburn of his sexual harassment.

On or about April 29, 1981, Dr. Levy insisted that he would only work with Cockburn if Santa Monica Community College District would "communicate his current situation to his wife." Cockburn immediately lashed back, refusing to submit to therapy under that condition. Instead, on May 4, 1981, Cockburn submitted a request for retirement to the SMC Board of Trustees. So, would he be receiving retirement benefits from the college as a reward for such blatant disrespect for women and the college's own policies?

Why was Cockburn not immediately terminated at that point? Furthermore, if Cockburn was married, why was he sexual assaulting young women who attended SMC? What benefit would notifying Cockburn's wife play in his alleged "rehabilitation"? Would this cause even more martial strife between the couple that Cockburn would perhaps vent out in frustration against more vulnerable SMC female students?

Incidently, who was paying for Cockburn's sexual misconduct? If Levy was paid by the District, that means the taxpayers and students (via their tuition dollars) were paying for SMC to continue to keep onboard a very allegedly disturbed sexual predator who had the potential to become quite dangerous. Additionally, if SMC had such "abundant uncontradicted evidence," numerous lodged complaints, and Cockburn's own admissions that the complaints against him were accurate, why wasn't Cockburn prosecuted in the criminal courts for repeated sexual assault? Why wasn't the SMC student body put on notice that working with Cockburn might not be advisable? It appears that the College was covering up its own wrongdoing by allowing Cockburn to continue on, despite written warnings, in his sexual predator role while failing to protect the students according to federal sexual harassment policies that SMC was under a duty to uphold.

One would think that SMC would be happy to rid themselves of Cockburn and his ever-mounting potential sexual harassment lawsuits against the college. Rather, Benita Haley quickly turned around two days after Cockburn's notice to retire and contacted Dr. Levy on or about May 6, 1981, informing Levy that the college wished to retain Levy for twelve therapy sessions with Cockburn. Suddenly, Cockburn had a change of heart and agreed to include his wife in the therapy sessions. It was extremely naive of SMC to think they could cure this kind of deep psychological problem in only twelve one-hour therapy sessions. Rather, was SMC planning all along to fire Cockburn, but wished to gain a bit more dirt on his long history of unwarranted sexual advances to gear up a defense in case of litigation by any of Cockburn's victims? The latter seems a more likely scenario.

Cockburn wrote a letter to Dr. Moore, president of the College, now suggesting that he was "qualified to continue working in my job." Cockburn swore: "I would never again commit such an act." The Board of Trustees found Cockburn's born-again attitude unconvincing and dismissed him from SMC's employment on or about August 4, 1981 due to his misconduct. Very shortly before his impending termination, Cockburn had rushed off and hired outside legal counsel, James L. Grubbs (now deceased according to California State Bar records).

The California Appellate Court wrote the following regarding the decision of the SMCCD Personnel Commission:

On December 11, 1981, the Commission found as follows: "1. That on August 4, 1981, at a regular meeting, The Board of Trustees of the Santa Monica Community College District took action to dismiss the [respondent] for cause as stated in Personnel Commission Rule 5.1300.3-A 'willful failure of good conduct tending to injure the public service,' alleging that [respondent's] conduct toward Ms. Duria Suncar on February 6, 1981, was discourteous and inappropriate.

The Commission also made other relevant findings as follows:

That the [respondent] has stated by declaration that on February 6, 1981, he approached Ms. Duria Suncar, a student worker in his charge, and grabbed and held her tightly and kissed her on the cheek and attempted physical contact a second time which she objected to and rejected.

That in his position as Laboratory Technician, Physical Science, [respondent] was responsible for the supervision of several student assistants, placing him in a position of responsibility and trust.

That [respondent] breached his trust and responsibility for the supervision of students.

That [respondent's] conduct toward Ms. Suncar on "February 6, 1981, constitutes failure of good conduct and is sufficient cause for dismissal."

However, the Commission also asked that certain files in Cockburn's disciplinary file conveniently "be purged and destroyed." Obviously, SMCCD did not want a paper trail. Apparently, SMC had concealed four incriminating documents against Cockburn, three of which dated as far back as 1978. In a letter dated June 29, 1978, Professor Vance wrote to Dick Wohlgemuth, then Chairman of the physical sciences department the following:

We have, to date, received four complaints against [respondent] . . . The complainants have all stated that [respondent] has made lewd remarks about and to women and has on occasion put his hands on them in a suggestive manner.

Why did SMC wait almost three entire years to investigate and take any action against Cockburn? Had SMC acted more swiftly, SMC student Duria Suncar wouldn't have been victimized by Cockburn's unwanted sexual harassment. But SMC wanted to keep all this potential negative publicity very hush-hush as is evident in Dr. Levy's complete evaluation report, dated July 27, 1981, in which he wrote in relevant part the following:

Though a great deal of information was obtained in the course of the evaluation, I am limiting this report to those issues relating to and thus seen as pertinent to his continued employment. I urge this material be treated with the maximum of discretion and confidentiality.

What was this "great deal of information obtained"? Were there many other unreported victims of sexual abuse at the unclean hands of Cockburn? Did Cockburn have some sort of adverse psychological history that he failed to disclose to the college? It was in fact disclosed by Cockburn in his therapy session with Dr. Levy that he had suffered some sort of brain trauma from a plane crash when he was a Marine Pilot in World War II. If Cockburn had been a pilot in WWII, let's suppose he was at the youngest possible age, 20 years old. WWII ended in 1945. That would place Cockburn's age around 56 or older in 1981. SMC student and victim, Duria Suncar, was then 18 years old. Cockburn was at least 38 years older than Suncar and evidently had not been rehabilitated in all these years from whatever difficulties, psychological or otherwise, he allegedly suffered.

Why was this matter of vital public interest to be "treated with the maximum of discretion and confidentiality"? Despite the fact that SMC had maintained "a prior need for improvement notice, dated October 20, 1977" in Cockburn's personnel file (almost four years before the Suncar incident) and Cockburn's own admission to his therapist of his "'deplorable behavior," Dr. Levy found in pertinent part:

It is my opinion that this patient can be rehabilitated without presenting a danger to himself or others. Specifically, the possibility of a recurrence of the above behavior appears to be very minimal given ongoing therapy and monitoring.

Suprisingly, it only took Dr. Levy a mere nine hours with Cockburn to make this bold medical prognosis. How much "therapy" would be required to "rehabitate" SMC employee Richard V. Cockburn of his self-described "deplorable behavior"? How much would this "therapy" cost SMC and ultimately the taxpayers and students? How would Cockburn's actions, if they were known to the public and the SMC student body, negatively impact Dr. Moore's efforts to draw in minority students? Dr. Levy is concerned about having Cockburn get in touch with his "feelings." What about the negative feelings and stigma that the innocent and trusting victims of sexual assault went through, perhaps some scarred for life by their unjustified experience with Cockburn? Where was the help for them? Who was there to champion their rights?

Even more disturbing, Dr. Levy was only "willing to monitor the patient's progress as well as report to the school psychologist on an as-needed basis" if he first obtained "permission of the patient and his wife." So, theoretically, if Cockburn and his wife (who had absolutely no investment in SMC's community) denied "permission," Cockburn would be left unmonitored to continue on his merry way with his sexual escapades. The Appellate Court found that this should not be the case and commented on Dr. Levy's letter as follows:

When the letter is analyzed in the light of the admitted facts and those inherent in the judgment appealed from the inevitable conclusion which must be drawn is that College cannot without great moral and financial risk to College and the general public reinstate respondent even temporarily. In our opinion too, College has no pragmatic option to employ respondent in any capacity even if and when respondent is reported to be completely rehabilitated. [emphasis in original].

Not only did the Appellate Court feel that Cockburn's employment ties should be immediately severed with Santa Monica College, but that there was strong evidence that "almost demonstrates an impeachment of the opinion of Dr. Levy." Again, if Dr. Levy's medical opinion was so unsound to warrant possible "impeachment," then why would Benita Haley wish to keep Dr. Levy employed for his services? Dr. Levy's report allegedly stated that Cockburn's martial relations "has been subjected to serious strain in the past." However, according to the Appellate Court, the good doctor was "optimistic that the marital situation too can be with psychological help satisfactorily adjusted." Was the SMC community now supposed to pay out of their pocket for Cockburn's martial woes? This is simply absurd, especially given the fact that the Court noted that Dr. Levy "is not an M.D."

The Court noted the questionable findings of Dr. Levy in that the doctor did not give a specified date or time that Cockburn would be allegedly "rehabilitated." The Court further cautioned about the "obvious legal and financial burdens which may ensue" if SMC were to reinstate Cockburn. In declining Cockburn's request for a hearing with the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court opined as follows:

The Commission and the courts have a grave responsibility not alone to respondent but also to the appellants and their personnel, the professors, instructors and students they embrace, and to the general public.

I tend to concur. Fast forward to 2006, twenty-five years after the Cockburn-Suncar incident and how does SMC score for upholding their sexual harassment policies? We have yet to know as SMC continues to willfully withhold vital public records. On or about August 1, 2006, I served a public records request (Set Six) to SMC President Chui L. Tsang and SMCCD requesting in relevant part the following:

Any and all administrative regulations, board policies, or other documents pertaining to Santa Monica College’s harassment policies, anti-harassment policies, and sexual harassment policies.

To date, SMC has simply ignored my request for inspection and copies, resulting in a writ of mandate to enforce compliance. Of course SMC has not only stonewalled production of these public records, it has found more legal maneuvers to circumvent court intervention. SMC is required by law to maintain these sexual harassment policies, so it is quite alarming that SMC would not readily produce these documents. Given this bit of SMC history with Cockburn, one can only wonder what other sexual misconduct has transpired on the SMC campus and what sexual predators are potentially being protected by the college.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Final Fantasy XII Review and Screenshots

After a long anticipated wait, Square-Enix has finally released its eagerly anticipated role-playing game, Final Fantasy XII. This is the last of its franchise to grace the Sony PlayStation 2 entertainment system, as the company is well in development toward its Final Fantasy XIII series for the next gen PlayStation 3. Since the game's release on October 31, 2006, I have clocked well over 80 hours of gameplay and can state with confidence that this game is everything one would expect from a fantasy game, with stunning CG cinematic cutscenes, interesting characters, a crisp polished script with well executed dialogue, and a new ATB real time battle system that keeps one engaged. The world of Ivalice is overwhelmingly massive and varied. To read my full review, complete with screenshots and a very large downloadable world map, click HERE.

Lord Rasler leads Dalmasca into inevitable warVaan Dreams of Becoming a Sky Pirate
The Judges of the Archadian EmpireMontblanc the Moogle leader of Clan Centurio
From left to right, clockwise: Lord Rasler prepares Dalmasca for impending war;

Vaan dreams of becoming a sky pirate; Montblanc the Moogle: founder of Clan Centurio;
a ruthless Judge of the Archadian Empire.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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