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JOSE GASPAR: BC professors' lawsuit ups the ante

A recent lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno by two Bakersfield College professors claiming officials at the Kern Community College District violated their free speech and academic freedom puts Dr. Sonya Christian in a tough spot. As the new KCCD chancellor, Christian must weigh whether to either fight the claims or somehow appease the plaintiffs, Matthew Garrett and Erin Miller.

A brief recap of how we got here: A year-long special investigation completed last year by an independent firm hired by Christopher Hine, general counsel with KCCD, found that Garrett and Miller had engaged in unprofessional conduct toward fellow colleagues Oliver Rosales and Andrew Bond. Garrett and Miller are political opposites of Rosales and Bond.

The plaintiffs are members of an on-campus conservative group called the Liberty Institute. Rosales and Bond are associated with BC's Social Justice Institute, which according to its website, is to create educational equity. It was founded a few years ago by then-BC president Christian along with other faculty and community members including those old radicals, the late Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and the late attorney Milt Younger, among others.

Garrett and Miller made videotaped remarks at a public symposium on Sept. 12, 2019 taking aim at how grant monies were used by Rosales and Bond. According to the investigation, Miller made a number of statements implying Rosales and Bond were improperly using grant funds and BC resources to finance various "social justice" programs. Garrett went into more detail. Among other things, he projected a map that included Rosales, Bond and others associated with BC's Social Justice Institute in an apparent attempt to connect them to a misuse of public funds. The investigation cleared Rosales and Bond of any misuse of public funds. It was a different story for Garrett and Miller, however. "The collective allegations by Dr. Garrett and Professor Miller mischaracterized the nature of the grants involved and the roles that Dr. Rosales and Professor Bond had in administering them," the investigation found. Further, it found Garrett and Miller could face disciplinary actions up to and including being fired.

Not so fast, says Los Angeles attorney Arthur Willner, who represents the plaintiffs. He claims Garrett and Miller were simply exercising their free speech in questioning how public funds were being used by Rosales and Bond to promote a certain agenda. Willner claims it was his clients who were wronged. "The investigation of protected speech in and of itself is a disciplinary measure," Willner said in a phone interview. "There should've been no investigation."

Garrett has gone on the offensive since the suit was filed. Speaking before the Kern Community College Board of Trustees meeting on June 6, he claimed he was openly threatened with termination, but did not say by whom. He told the board he was currently under investigation for two complaints again but did not specify by whom. "One related to my personal Facebook page, and the other I suspect, centers on my social media past," said Garrett. Further, he accused an unnamed BC administrator of colluding with others on campus to deny him an opportunity to be able to teach an ethnic studies course. Yet that opportunity was granted to prior Hispanic applicants who "had the right sorts of viewpoints," Garrett claimed, adding the guilty administrator made KCCD liable for a second civil rights lawsuit. He ended by saying, "I come to offer the olive branch once more."

He's also appeared at least twice on local talk radio where he accused Bakersfield College administrators of funding programs where a "cohort" of students are sent for "training" to ... Cuba? Venezuela? Lost Hills? Garrett said the students are sent to that other radical place, UCLA. Garrett did not say what this indoctrination consisted of, but that by obtaining this training, "Students can become activist leaders who can take on the agenda that certain administrators and faculty would like to see happen on (Bakersfield College's) campus," said Garrett.

Speaking of spending public monies promoting a certain agenda, the Liberty Institute run by Garrett has reportedly brought in conservative speakers and reportedly they have been paid with taxpayer dollars. I emailed, called, texted, left voice mail messages and sent smoke signals to Garrett and Miller to verify this and get their response, but so far all I got was crickets. If Garrett and Miller are claiming that others are using taxpayer dollars to promote a certain agenda, aren't they doing the same thing? And actually, it's legal for both sides to do so.

Professors Rosales and Bond last month published a video titled "A Corrective Response" to the allegations made by Garrett and Miller on Sept. 12, 2019. They dissect what they say are the erroneous claims made against them. Take a look at it for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AytuUDCR34c.

So what will new chancellor Dr. Sonya Christian do about all this? If she does sanction Garrett and Miller for unprofessional conduct, would she risk drawing the wrath of the extreme right claiming conservative faculty at BC are being crucified? If she does nothing, is that any justice for Rosales and Bond, whom the KCCD investigation found to have been wronged? Or will KCCD go to court and see what happens before taking action, though that could take years? Stay tuned.

Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a news anchor/reporter for Telemundo Bakersfield and KGET. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com. The views expressed here are his own.