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Pasadena City College puts journalism professor on leave amid fractious campus environment

March 29, 2013

Pasadena City College has placed the faculty advisor for its student newspaper on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into an undisclosed misconduct allegation, increasing anxieties on the already sharply divided campus.

Assistant professor Warren Swil, advisor to the Pasadena City College Courier since 2007, was placed on leave Thursday, said Gail Cooper, general counsel for the college.

College officials cannot publicly disclose the nature of the allegation due to Swil’s employee privacy rights, Cooper added.

Swil referred comment to his attorney, who could not be reached Friday.

Faculty and student groups have been sharply critical of college President Mark Rocha’s leadership, with the student government and a committee of full-time faculty issuing no-confidence rebukes earlier this month.

“It is most unfortunate that the PCC administration has seen fit to retaliate against the outstanding journalism of the students at the Courier newspaper by removing, without notice, their advisor Warren Swil from the campus,” associate professor William R. Foster, a faculty union board member and grievance officer, said in a statement.

Many on campus suspect a connection between Swil’s leave and the college paper’s aggressive coverage of dissatisfaction with the administration, according to an email from retired Pasadena City College journalism professor and former Courier advisor Mikki Bolliger to the statewide Journalism Assn. of Community Colleges.

“It is no secret that the college is in a state of political crisis with two votes of ‘no confidence’ in the president and his administration,” Bolliger wrote. “Because of the paper's coverage of the turmoil, the consensus on campus is that the journalism program has been targeted by the administration.”

Comments left on the Courier’s website make similar assertions.

Addressing journalism students on Tuesday, Rocha defended the administration against recent attacks and expressed disappointment with some of the paper’s recent coverage, according to Courier staff members.

Rocha “made it clear he had a problem with our coverage, but as of now I can’t say that had anything to do with this administrative leave,” Courier Editor Nicholas Saul said.

In a statement issued Friday, Rocha said the misconduct complaint was reported to assistant college superintendent Robert Bell and “is not connected in any way with Professor Swil's performance as advisor to the student newspaper, the Courier, nor with his performance as a journalism teacher.”

Swil worked for the Glendale News-Press — a sister paper to the Pasadena Sun — as a news editor from 1993 to 1995 and as opinion editor until 2000. He joined PCC as a part-time faculty member in 2001.

Suzanne Anderson, a grievance officer for Pasadena City College’s faculty union, said closure of the campus on Friday in honor of Cesar Chavez Day has kept the union from learning more about the investigation.

Members of the union are locked in a protracted contract dispute with the administration.

Swil reportedly told the Courier he is not allowed to comment on reasons given for his leave.

But that’s not entirely true, Cooper said.

Swil was “instructed not to discuss the investigation with employees or students,” but was informed of the nature of the allegation against him and could choose to make that information public, Cooper said.

Anderson expressed concern that Swil appeared to be placed on leave prior to any significant investigative work.

“Before this current administration, [the college] would never put tenured faculty on paid leave prior to a preliminary investigation,” she said.

Cooper emphasized that the college was following its standard procedures, including protection of Swil’s privacy.

The college “will zealously protect the process and the rights of the individuals involved,” Cooper said.

Meanwhile, Bell is slated to appoint an acting advisor to the Courier next week.

In a statement, Bell said he and Rocha “fervently support freedom of the press and academic freedom” at the college.

“It is the formal policy of the college for the administration not to have any role in the reporting, editing or publishing of the Courier. Nor will it ever have a role other than to fund and support the free, unfettered operation of this important educational program and news service to the PCC community,” Bell said.

-- Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter @joepiasecki.

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