Photo by Keith MayProfessor Roy Bauer has let everyone in the South Orange County Community College District know he wants to drop “a 2-ton slate of polished granite” on the head of his boss, Irvine Valley College's president. He's proclaimed an “urge to go postal” during an election party for conservative Board of Trustees candidates. And his e-mail address is frighteningly similar to the handle of another college professor preoccupied with going postal: “Unabauer.”
Alarming? Cedric Sampson says he thought so. The district chancellor sent Bauer a letter in December accusing the ethics and political-philosophy professor of creating a “hostile work environment” and “strongly urged” him to “participate in the district's Employee Assistance Program”-counseling-“to defuse this volatile situation and assist you in dealing with the feelings of anger you have exhibited.”
One might logically share Sampson's anxieties over Bauer-except that Sampson's evidence was excerpted from Bauer's underground, over-the-top newsletters: The 'Vine, which covers Irvine Valley College, and Dissent, which targets the district. The pesky, smart-ass, stream-of-consciousness-raising newsletters are clearly a cross between Mad Magazine and the OC Weekly-without the intrusive editing for clarity.
Sampson was specifically irked over the Nov. 2 Dissent, in which Bauer wrote that “I, for one, have etched the name of [union president] Sherry 'Realpolitik' Miller-White and others of her ilk on my permanent shit list, a 2-ton slate of polished granite that I someday hope to drop on [Irvine Valley president] Raghu Mathur's head.”
Then there was the following week's issue, when-riffing off someone's comment at a trustee-election party that those present were “the very best in the district” -Bauer mused that at a fictional party for conservative candidates, “no decent person could resist the urge to go postal.” There was also coverage of a fantasy funeral for Steven Frogue (a trustee who'd recently fought off a nasty recall campaign over allegations that he has minimized the Holocaust) at which Mathur and mourning trustees choked on “a lurid gas emanating from the Great Man's gaping mouth.”
Sampson said he found more signs of Bauer's alleged depravity in the Nov. 16 Dissent. That issue referred to the Irvine Valley College president's policies as the Milosevic-Mathur Academic Integrity Matrix, or MAIM. However, Bauer notes that others in the district contribute to the newsletters, and sadly, he could not take credit for the MAIM line.
But he takes responsibility for newsletter illustrations Sampson finds offensive. One shows Mathur beheading his foes (it accompanied a story on the president's alleged enemies list). The other, a still from the 1940 flick Dr. Cyclops, shows three shrunken people crouched down on a chair, setting up a rifle to shoot at a giant (for an article on the board's micro-management of the college campuses).
And in just about every issue, Sampson alleged, Bauer offended Asians by referring to Mathur as “Mr. Goo.” Bauer contends he was playing off the last syllable of the president's first name and the bumbling cartoon character Mr. Magoo. But Sampson said he believed “Goo” was short for “gook,” a derogatory term for Asians. Mathur is of Indian descent.
As for the “Unabauer” e-mail address, Bauer changed it to that after trustee John Williams was quoted in The Orange County Register comparing the professor's writings to the Unabomber Manifesto.
Many district observers don't believe it's Bauer's colorful rhetoric that distresses Sampson, but rather his penchant for finger-pointing-which finger depends on the occasion-at the surreal events on South County's Saddleback and Irvine Valley college campuses. Bauer asks officials loads of loaded questions at public functions and sticks his nose into the affairs of what he believes to be a corrupt college, district and faculty union.
Bauer first came to the public's attention when he sicced the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Frogue in the fall of 1996. The trustee had just proposed a John F. Kennedy assassination seminar at Saddleback that would include speakers some consider crackpots (one wrote a book tying Kennedy's killing to the Israeli government's secret police; he and another invited speaker contribute to The Spotlight, which the ADL has branded the most anti-Semitic paper in the country). The seminar was nixed after strong public reaction.
Sampson's letter was dated three days after the Register ran a guest column from Bauer critical of the board majority and the faculty union that brought that majority to power. Just days before receiving the letter, Bauer says colleagues warned him that top officials had begun building a case against him that would result in his termination. Bauer and others saw Sampson's letter as ammunition to bag Bauer.
Bauer sued, winning a temporary injunction in federal court in Los Angeles on March 22. U.S. District Judge Nora M. Manella described Sampson's ordering of Bauer into counseling “Orwellian” and ridiculed the chancellor's examples of threats of violence. For instance, when it came to dropping a 2-ton slab of polished granite on Mathur's head, Manella exclaimed, “Think of the logistics!” The injunction prevents Sampson's letter from being placed in Bauer's personnel file and bars the district from ordering him into counseling. It marked Bauer's third legal victory against the district in the past two years.
So just who is this ticking time bomb? "I consider myself the most nonviolent person I know,” said the 43-year-old, bushy-bearded mountain of a man as he stretched his long frame into a cozy chair on a coffeehouse patio across the street from Irvine Valley College. "I'm a vegetarian because I don't want to hurt animals. I couldn't be further from a violent person. People who know me kid me about it. They regularly point out that I'm just a teddy bear. And I point that out, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a thing for the babes.”
Bauer's 30-second history: born in British Columbia to German immigrants. Moved to Orange in 1960. U.S. citizenship five years later. His father for many years presided over the Santiago Canyon Water District board of directors. Eagle Scout in 1970. Attended Villa Park High School. Undergraduate and graduate studies at UC Irvine. Part-time teacher at Irvine Valley College before getting a full-time gig in 1986. Met the woman who would be his wife for 15 years in grad school. Divorced about a year ago. (Sampson alluded to the split as an indicator that Bauer could blow. Bauer counters that he and his ex, a University of Redlands philosophy professor, remain good friends; he even house-sat for her "and her fucking boyfriend” recently.)
Bauer became Irvine Valley College's sole full-time philosophy instructor in 1996. "My specialty is ethics and political philosophy,” he said. "I love scholarship. I love philosophy. Teaching is, well, fun. I love the freedom of being a professor and being able to determine the shape of my week. I can read a philosophy book at home and bring it into class to read to students.”
When he first arrived at Irvine Valley, the college had adopted "an innovative government model: the chair model.” That system allowed faculty members to choose their respective departments' chairpeople from among their own. Those faculty leaders performed part-time administrative duties. In exchange, they were given time off from teaching.
"It was perceived by many people to be progressive,” Bauer said. "We enjoyed that model until the summer of 1997, when-in closed session, illegally-the board simply eliminated it.”
The new board majority-funded by the faculty union-decided that the chair model was too expensive. Too many chairpeople were earning full-time pay yet spending too little time in the classrooms, the trustees contended. In a recent conversation with the Weekly, Frogue alleged that faculty members were earning up to $150,000 per year while teaching only a few hours per week.
Chemistry professor Mathur was named interim president of Irvine Valley College, and one of his first orders of business was reorganization. Deans at Saddleback, which did not have a chair model, were brought in to take over the administrative duties Irvine's faculty members were performing. Teachers were sent back to their classrooms full-time (unless they were union leaders-those who got Frogue and his allies in office-who are still permitted to deduct the hours they spend on union business from their teaching loads).
Bauer sued the district because Mathur's appointment came without prior notice and behind closed doors-a violation of the state's open-meeting law. Bauer won, although the judge refused to unseat Mathur because the board had since gone back and re-appointed him in public. Later, Bauer sued over other open-meeting-law violations involving Mathur's permanent appointment as president, reorganization and other matters. He won that one, too, with the judge ordering the board to record all closed sessions for the next two years because of "persistent and defiant” violations. Experts of the state's open-meeting laws considered the ruling precedent-setting.
Bauer's critics contend that the professor is taking on the district out of petty personal interest. He was a department chairman when the chair model was torpedoed. Bauer pointed out that he had been appointed chairman just a month before the board's October surprise, and the job involved no financial windfall as far as he was concerned. "Being a chairperson was not a way of making more money,” he said. "It was, rather, a way of having a time-consuming, odious job that no one wanted, even if we saw the need for it. It was my turn, that's all. Literally no one ran against me for chairperson.”
Besides, he added, it's not as if the trustees' new system of governance actually works. A national accreditation committee blamed deep divisions between faculty and trustees on the new system and demanded radical reforms before they'll accredit the campuses.
The turmoil is a simple power struggle. Bauer and others like him believe faculty leaders chosen by their peers should have a major say in curriculum and staffing-and have the freedom to criticize administrators and the board if they're screwing things up. The board majority believes the trustees and their handpicked administrators should run the whole show-and that everyone must act as team players. The faculty union leadership position comes down to this: so long as teacher salaries remain among the highest in the state, we don't care who wins.
The union's tunnel vision is occasionally frightening. Besides funding the conservative board members' elections in 1996, they hired political consultant Pam Zanelli, who blanketed precincts with a gay-baiting flier to discredit the conservatives' opponents. (It alleged that challengers of the Frogue slate would mandate gay studies in classrooms.) Zanelli was later rewarded with a plum administrative job in the district. In '98, the union helped elect two more Christian Coalition-backed candidates to the board.
"The people who took control of the faculty union many years ago have seen to it that they only involve themselves with one issue: faculty salaries,” Bauer said. "They are utterly unprincipled. They pursued a quid pro quo with three right-wing Republicans and a Democrat [trustee Dorothy Fortune]. The board majority has nothing philosophically in common with the union, and the union has nothing especially in common with the board. Meanwhile, people like Frogue were able to practice their nutty agenda without a whisper of complaint from the union.”
Bauer's battles with the district have brought him recognition-mostly unwanted, he would argue. “I'm a shy person,” he said. “I don't like standing up in front of a large group.”
He wants it understood that several other faculty members are also fighting the board and the union. But he's also clearly disappointed that some of his colleagues have surrendered the fight-or never joined it in the first place. “The tenured, full-time faculty are the most protected people in the world, but as a group, they're the people we've been able to count on the least,” he said. “Look at what I've had to do: I've had to call Frogue a coward to his face. I've had to sue the bastards three times. I've had to challenge the trustees in public numerous times. I've had to publish these newsletters. And, yeah, finally they came after me. But most faculty won't even sign a fucking petition.”
It's noon on March 16, a bright, blustery day. Most passersby are oblivious to the portable stage that has been set up in front of Irvine Valley College's brick Student Services Building; they're more concerned about lunch, making it to their next class or pumping more quarters into those damn parking meters. But about 60 people -mostly students occupying the seats set up in front of the stage, others milling about off to the side-are intently focused on the proceedings. The Student Civil Liberties Club, recently formed by two undergrads who had organized weekly rallies against Mathur, Frogue and the board majority, gathered to bestow their first Laser of Liberty award to Bauer.
Wendy Phillips, an Irvine Valley anthropology professor and lawyer who represented Bauer in the open-meeting-law cases, noted: “When I first met Roy, he was this soft, quiet-spoken guy. He was not this savagely political individual who was out to get the Board of Trustees. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Calling Bauer “a rare person: a teacher who actually lives what he teaches,” a student then presented the award, which Bauer hoisted to much applause. He thanked the speakers “for the lovely, lovely bullshit about me,” then apologized that he had to rush off. His next class started at 12:30 p.m.
Bauer missed the remarks by guest speaker Jon Wiener, a UC Irvine history professor and sometime contributor to the Weekly and The Nation. Wiener knows a thing or three about fighting the powers that be: one of his biggest claims to fame is successfully fighting the FBI for years to declassify its John Lennon files. Wiener explained to the crowd that free speech must not be silenced-even if what is being said isn't totally true-because truth cannot come to light without a hearty “clash of debate.” Wiener noted that the free speech Frogue wanted to engage in with his JFK seminar should be allowed-but not sanctioned as a college course because the trustee is not qualified to present that kind of academic material.
Besides missing Wiener's speech, Bauer missed the sight of Frogue standing in the back row taking everything in. After striking his palms against each other in order to provide applause so light as to be inaudible, Frogue engaged in a friendly, 45-minute chat with the Weekly. Turns out Frogue has a lot in common with us: he loves KPFK, Noam Chomsky and cold beer. But he does hate what all the district upheaval has done to his family (“There have been tears, many tears”). He actually seemed to be-drum roll-a nice guy.
(Upon hearing this, Bauer remarked, “Yeah, well, even Hitler loved his dog.”)
As Frogue walked to his car, he was informed the Weeklywas doing a profile on Bauer and could he sit down for an interview on what kind of person and teacher he thinks Bauer is? “I don't know that; I don't know him,” he said, throwing in the obligatory reference to “personnel issues,” which elected officials are led to believe must remain confidential under state law. “I can't say what I've heard,” he added slyly.
Pressed for something, anything, Frogue came through.
“He's been here a long time. He loves teaching,” he said. “That's something that should be applauded. I wish he could just be kinder.”
Frogue said the highly charged atmosphere created by district dissenters has led to violent outbursts on campus. Looking at the stage one last time as it was being torn down, Frogue remarked, “So much talent going to waste” before disappearing into the parking lot.
Where does Bauer go from here? “I have not had the luxury of being able to focus only on teaching since the fall of '96,” he said. “I think I'm still doing a good job, but I'm certainly more distracted than I used to be. Part of it is that it's a small campus. Every day I run the gauntlet of friends and enemies-mostly friends-who ask me about what's going on with the board and the lawsuits. In the minutes before class, I've got to think about this. It definitely affects my teaching. I look for the day when I can focus solely on teaching.”
Reaching into a gray, portable filing box at his feet and pulling out Sampson's letter, Bauer conceded the ordeal has rattled him. “The chancellor's letter is obviously a serious thing,” he said. “It made me spend a few days wondering if what I was doing was right. I came to the realization that, insofar as I'm a part of this battle, I'm fighting for decency and honest government.”
Whatever happens, Bauer is not ready to simply walk away from the fight and retreat into his classroom.
“To me, it's just a matter of principle. That union leadership should not be in charge,” he said. “And those unprincipled people should not be the trustees of this district. And the equally unprincipled Raghu Mathur should not be the president of Irvine Valley College. I will not stop until those matters are corrected.”