FREE SPEECH -- "On Thursday, several hundred students at Southwestern College, a community college outside of San Diego, held a peaceful protest
over budget cuts that are leading to the cancellation of more than 400
additional course sections next semester,"
reports Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed. "On Friday, the students got a
sign that someone was paying attention to the protest, but they didn't
get the response they wanted: Four faculty members were immediately
suspended and barred from the campus for using the campus e-mail system."

The suspended professors include the current and former presidents of the faculty union, which supported the student protest.

With California's economy in a free fall, and the budgets of public
colleges and universities in similar decline, student and faculty
protests have been picking up across the state, and several campuses
have seen building takeovers or other examples of civil disobedience.
But the Southwestern situation—with faculty members getting kicked
off campus—is notable for the extent of administration reaction to a
protest that was relatively mild compared to some others.

The
letters that the four faculty members received telling them that they
had been suspended immediately did not say why. But the letters
referenced (by number) a section of California's penal code that bars
people from "willfully disrupting the orderly operation of the campus."

Southwestern
officials could not be reached to explain why they took this action.
The college's spokeswoman was recently laid off and she has not been
replaced. The college's president, Raj Chopra, is reportedly on
vacation and his e-mail reply says that he will be off campus until
November 13. Chopra's executive assistant gave local reporters a
statement that said that the reason for the suspensions could not be
made public, and that "the college shares our students' concerns about
reductions in state funding for the college. The college respects,
values and is committed to freedom of expression.”

Philip Lopez,
an English professor who is president of the faculty union, said that
there is no other possible explanation for the suspensions except the
rally. "Nothing else happened the day before," he said.
Lopez
said that the union—an affiliate of the National Education
Association—has consulted with union lawyers and is demanding a
hearing, which the college must schedule within seven days.