Warren Swil, faculty adviser to the Courier, Pasadena City College’s student newspaper, was abruptly placed on administrative leave and escorted off campus Thursday.
Friday afternoon, PCC Public Relations Director Juan Gutierrez said Swil was placed on paid administrative leave by Dr. Robert Bell, PCC’s assistant superintendent and senior vice president of student and learning services, "pending an independent outside investigation into allegations of misconduct pursuant to a formal complaint recently lodged with Dr. Bell."
The complaint, Gutierrez wrote in a statement, "is not connected in any way with Professor Swil’s performance as adviser to the student newspaper, the Courier, or with his performance as a journalism teacher."
Because this is a confidential personnel matter, "the college is required to zealously guard the privacy of the process and of the individuals involved. The college cannot divulge the nature of the complaint filed with Dr. Bell and will make no further comment on this personnel matter," Gutierrez wrote.
Sources close to the situation believe Swil may have been relieved of duty because the newspaper has been running stories critical of the administration.
Two weeks ago, both the PCC Associated Students and the Faculty Ad Hoc Committee cast votes of “no-confidence” against PCC President Mark Rocha. Students are upset over the elimination of Winter Intercession classes, which have allowed students to finish their junior college course work before moving onto four-year universities. Faculty members are upset because fewer classes mean less hours and pay. Both groups say Rocha and his administration implemented the cut without consulting them, undermining the concept of “shared governance” of the campus.
PCC faculty member Melissa Michelson questioned the timing of the administration’s decision to relieve Swil of his duties.
“For a faculty member to be advising the Courier for six years straight, it must mean he’d been doing a fine job. Why, all of a sudden, is he being dismissed, and what kind of faculty adviser will be taking on Swil’s duties for the Courier? Will the Courier continue to print the tough news stories that it’s been doing lately?” Michelson wrote in a post following the Courier’s online story about Swil. Faculty members, she wrote, are “are very concerned for our colleague, given what seems an uncanny and timely dismissal immediately following the Courier’s valiant and comprehensive press coverage on the votes of no confidence.”
“This is the third time [the school has] done this to tenured faculty member within that past five years. They have basically, without notice, escorted them off campus without any kind of charges launched against them. They tended to do it late in the day, when no one else is on campus. It’s really unfair treatment of the faculty,” said Suzanne Anderson, Swil’s union grievance officer.
Contacted at the school Friday, Swil referred comment to his attorney, who did not return calls.
Roger Marheine, president of the PCC Faculty Association (PCCFA), accompanied Swil Friday as he cleaned out his office under the supervision of a PCC police officer.
When asked why he thought Swil was placed on leave, Marheine wouldn’t speculate.
“I don’t know. I have no idea,” he said. “It’s just that we want to see the paperwork to assess what the college is saying. And we will legally defend Warren to the best of our ability.”
Swil has been serving as adviser to the Courier since 2007. The following was written about him on his official faculty hiring summary by former Board of Trustees Vice President Jackie Jacobs.
“Warren has served as an editor with the Los Angeles Times, the San Gabriel Valley Newspapers and the Daily News, as well as having been a working reporter,” Jacobs wrote. “Some comments from references were: ‘He is an outstanding professional … always approachable, humble and skillful. He has the right stuff to be a great teacher.’ And, ‘I have never seen him angry or upset. Works well with young people. We need more good teachers like Warren.’”
Courier Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Saul said he was disappointed.
“All I can say is that it is hard not having an adviser in the final weeks of the semester,” Saul wrote in an email. “Rocha did make it clear that he had a problem with our coverage, but as of now, I can’t say for sure whether that went into the decision to place Swil on administrative leave.”
“It’s always suspect when you have an outspoken faculty member who’s been supporting faculty issues and that faculty member is removed,” Marheine said. “That’s always suspect.”