No. 2: Not just another blank page

April 17, 2017

A list of the top 10 memorable issues of student publications during my teaching career.

Probably the lowest point of my teaching career was in 1994 when West Valley College announced that it was eliminating six academic programs and laying off a quarter of the classified staff because of budget cuts.

I had been laid off from my adjunct gig at Reedley College many years ago to make room for a full-time employee who they were shuffling back into the journalism classroom, and that hurt a lot, but nothing like losing my program at west Valley. (BTW, the full-timer who needed a teaching slot at Reedley College was at that time my step-father. Yeah, that created some awkward family issues for about six months until I landed my adjunct position at Merced College. Not a proud moment of my life.)

Anyway, back to West Valley. I had enough seniority after 14 years there and had other skills –I was teaching Macintosh computer application courses as an overload in the Computer Applications program—and the college offered to keep me employed as an instructor and computer lab tech, but the journalism program was officially gone.

The day the college president called me into his office to inform me of the cut my crackerjack student newspaper staff –one of the best I had at West Valley—had a beach bonfire party planned. I just couldn’t tell the students. While staff members enjoyed themselves at the bonfire, I wandered off down the beach into the dark and cried.

When the entire college was notified of the cuts, we fought to save the program, but the college president had successfully cowed the faculty by pitting us against each other. Want to save one of the programs? Fine, just tell him which one to cut in its place. It was a zero-sum game.

The issue of the student newspaper that came out after the cuts were announced contained a uniquely creative front page. The page had the Norseman flag and nothing else except a single paragraph in small type in the middle of the page. It read:

“Pretty bleak, isn’t it. Sometimes we entertain you, sometimes we ridicule you, but we’ve always tried to be informative. This blank page is just about as informative as we will be next year. West Valley College plans to eliminate journalism, and with it the school newspaper. Even if a paper is resurrected in the future, it will be without the solid foundation journalism classes give to produce an informative, First Amendment newspaper. If this is important to you please let the Board of Trustees know. Only it can save the paper now.”

Page 3 was the real front page, with information about the cuts.

Perhaps the most surreal night of my life was the board of trustees meeting that followed. Most of the programs were arguing to be saved. I had broad support from a variety of constituencies, including current and former students, industry professionals, the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, and more; everyone but fellow faculty and classified staff fighting the zero-sum game. Listening to the fight and the accolades for me was like attending your own funeral; I felt somewhat disembodied.

We lost the fight.

After reaching out to San Jose State University’s journalism program for an intern who might advise a newspaper on a part-time basis –a request that was soundly rejected by that department—the college agreed to release me from part of my computer lab duties on a semester-by-semester basis to try and put out a newspaper. It was difficult to get students when the college waited until a week before the semester began to decide whether to release me for those duties.

Every morning and every evening I felt like there was poison in my system, like someone had punched me in the gut. We had just purchased a new house and had an infant daughter and my son in the house. I needed the job, but I hated it. Quite frankly, if not for my family and the support I received from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, I might have committed suicide.

A couple years later I gave up and took a job at Cerritos College. West Valley told me time and again that it was NOT going back down the journalism route. In fact, though, shortly after I left the college hired a combination English Lit/Journalism instructor who tried for a few years to keep the paper going. But, as predicted, without a solid journalism program to back it up, it could not survive. The college has no student newspaper today.

PREVIOUSLY: 10: The execution, 9: We don’t need no headlines, 8: The student who died, 7: It was just a matter of time, 6: Daddy come home, 5: 911, 4: 3-D.

NEXT UP: “All hell broke loose

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