By Miriam Raftery
14, 2008 (El Cajon) - After English professor Timothy Pagaard posted a small
Barack Obama sticker on the outside of his office window at Cuyamaca College,
he was astounded to receive a warning from the Dean on September 27th ordering
him to remove his message in support of the presidential candidate.
“The next day the district distributed a letter threatening murderous
fines and draconian prison time for anyone violating this policy,” Pagaard
wrote in a blog post titled “Academic Freedom is at Risk.” He
alleged that the Grossmont Cuyamaca Community College District violated his
academic freedom and First Amendment constitutional rights. The letter,
signed by Vice Chancellor Ben Lastimado and Associate Vice Chancellor Dana
Quittner, included links to sections of the California Education Code,
which listed hefty fines and prison sentences as potential punishments for
the district letter.
The codes in question prohibited use of District funds, services, supplies,
or equipment to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure. Pagaard
said the code should not apply because he did not use district supplies (except
a piece of Scotch tape which he replaced with tape from home after the objection
“Academic freedom is the essence of a real institution of higher learning,” wrote
Pagaard, who believes the sticker clearly reflected the opinion of the scholar
within the office, not an institutional endorsement. “I defy
you to show me any college or university campus between here and Singapore
that doesn't honor this long-held convention--unless we want to include institutions
in places such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, and North Korea. Thus I would consider
myself craven not to resist with all my power any effort to suppress my freedom,” he
noted, adding that he would defend the right of others to post opposing views.
Read Pagaard’s full blog statement here: www.cuyamaca.edu/tpagaard/PagaardSite/Welcome/AcademicFreedom.html
In an interview with East County Magazine, Pagaard observed that political
materials are commonly posted in outside windows and on outside bulletin boards
at “every college in the democratic world—including Grossmont College. “Walk
around any campus anywhere, and you'll find such materials in spades--most
far more strident than my little Obama sticker,” he added.
After Pagaard complained to the faculty union and to the ACLU, of which he
is a proud “card carrying member,” the District backed down and
informed him it would not enforce the policy and would take no action against
In a letter to Chancellor Olmero Suarez, ACLU staff attorney
Sean Riordan applauded the action and declared the policy to be an unconstitutional
violation of faculty members’ right to personal political expression.
not to enforce such an unconstitutional policy is a good first step,” Riordan
wrote. “However, I hope the District takes
this opportunity to officially change the policy in line with the requirements
of the First Amendment.”
similar case earlier this month resulted in the University of Texas backing
down on threats to punish two students who refused to remove political signs
from their dormitory rooms.
Miriam Raftery is a national award-winning journalist and a graduate of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca
Community College District.