Can you read “Catcher in the Rye”? Even if you passed English 104, Cypress College doesn’t seem to think so. When it comes to reading proficiency requirements for associate degrees, Cypress College students may be getting the raw end of the deal compared to their counterparts at Fullerton College. However, when students asked for equality, they say they feel all but silenced.
Student Trustee Claudia Peña, together with a group of 25 other students, brought up this issue in a letter addressed to the North Orange County Community College District (NOCCCD) Board of Trustees at the Nov. 12 meeting. The letter, attributed to Cypress College students, addressed the inequality between the two colleges’ standards.
This visit to the Board of Trustees followed a contentious Cypress College Curriculum Committee meeting that ultimately resulted in the Cypress College Faculty Senate censuring the Executive Vice President (EVP) for Educational Programs and Support Services Santanu Bandyopadhyay. Local newspapers have now also begun to pick up on the issue, leaving the school administration concerned about the press, and giving students more momentum for their protests.
Fullerton Fulfills, Cypress Lags
Fullerton College students have multiple ways to fulfill their associate degree reading proficiency requirement. According to their college catalog, a satisfactory score on the reading component of the placement test suffices. If not, Fullerton students have nine classes to choose from to meet the requirement, whereas Cypress College offers only three. Whereas Fullerton students can fulfill the requirement with, for example, English 104, Cypress students cannot. Cypress College students also do not have the option of fulfilling their requirement through the placement test.
Student Trustee Peña said, in an interview with The Cypress Chronicle, that Fullerton students have an advantage because not only do they have more classes to fulfill the reading requirement, but they may also fulfill it by testing into Reading 142 on the placement test. Cypress does have a separate Reading Proficiency examination, same as Fullerton, but this separate test, according to Peña, costs $25 and takes 25 minutes, which, while a small expenditure, she said could be put to better use by the students.
“They can be utilizing that money and that time in a different way. If you pass these classes [like English 104], you are reading-proficient,” said Peña. “Students shouldn’t take an extra reading course or a 25-minute test to prove that they can read.”
“If the Board of Trustees truly cares about student needs and student success,” the petition said, “then why do we have to fight for something that should already be ours?”
The fight, in fact, has been going on for months now.
Contention in Committee
Christie Diep, Cypress College English professor and academic senator, said that this began in September. The English department proposed that English 103 and 104 be included in the list of courses that fulfill the reading proficiency requirement. Both courses satisfy the requirement for Fullerton College, but don’t for Cypress. Diep said that in the past, there have been transfer students from Fullerton College who had taken English 103 and 104 and yet were denied fulfillment for these requirements at Cypress.
The letter Student Trustee Peña read to the Board of Trustees on Nov. 12 cited NOCCCD Administrative Procedure 4025, which reads, “Associate degree general education courses taken at either college will satisfy associate degree general education graduation requirements regardless of the college within the District from which he/she graduates.”
As it currently stands, the Cypress College proficiency requirement violates this policy.
“It’s become a larger conversation now because the students have seen [the standards] at Fullerton,” added Diep. Students are now requesting for more than what the original English Department proposal intended—to match what Fullerton College has.
The English and Reading Departments attended the Cypress College Curriculum Committee meeting on Oct. 29. The committee needed a week to deliberate, and so representatives from English and reading returned on Nov. 5, where the two departments reread their proposals.
However, after the proposals were aired, EVP Bandyopadhyay asked the guests to leave. Instruction Librarian and Academic Senator Billy Pashaie, who attended the meeting to support the students, said that Bandyopadhyay directed this towards the English department in particular. Peña and Pashaie both said someone had even mentioned calling security.
This violated California’s Brown Act, which gives the public the right to attend public meetings. Pashaie said that he even displayed the Brown Act on the video screen as proof. Pashaie said that Bandyopadhyay unsuccessfully looked for a loophole and insisted that the Brown Act did not apply to this particular meeting. Despite Bandyopadhyay’s protests, committee chairman Mark Majarian continued the meeting and it was agreed that the issue be brought up again in committee in March.
“What [Bandyopadhyay] did was completely illegal,” said Pashaie, who said that he has approached the district attorney who said charges could be pressed. “He silenced us and he silenced the student trustee. Claudia [Peña] was in tears. Here at Cypress College, students are being silenced. To me, that’s just a disgrace.”
Later, during the Academic Senate meeting on Nov. 12, a motion to censure Bandyopadhyay’s actions was passed.
Negative Press, Veiled Threats?
An article titled “Students Bring up Inequities Between Fullerton & Cypress at Community College Board Meeting” appeared in the Mid-November issue of the Fullerton Observer with an overview the events from the Nov. 12 Board of Trustees meeting.
“The NOCCCD Board of Trustees chose not to discuss Student Trustee Peña’s request, but they stated that they would take the matter into consideration for a future meeting,” read the article.
The Associated Students (AS) then urged College President Bob Simpson to read the article in a letter signed by each AS member.
“We as the voice of the students feel this is a concern of great importance,” it read.
The day after the article was sent to Simpson’s office, Peña said that Simpson asked AS Adviser David Okawa for time to speak in front of AS during their Nov. 20 meeting.
Peña stated that, in another meeting she had with Simpson later that same day, Simpson said “this issue is tearing the campus apart.”
“From my interpretation,” said Peña, “he’s saying that the people that are for this are bullying others to agree with them.”
The AS Meeting
“You are the student voice, and it is important that you consider how that voice is heard,” said Simpson at the Nov. 20 Associated Students meeting.
At the meeting (video below), he talked about protocol and accountability, urging the students to approach the school’s administration before elevating important issues to the Board of Trustees or the press.
“I want to hear the student voice, but when the statement is made, ‘I’m speaking for students,’ what does that mean?” he said.
He emphasized that only one organization, AS, speaks for the entire student body, and that petitioners who air issues to committees need to be careful about declaring who they’re speaking for.
“Consider the importance of your positions as representatives of this college,” he said. “Your voices carry great weight.”
Simpson’s biggest concern, however, had to do with the press generated about students airing their concerns. He said that it would be more difficult for the NOCCCD to ask for public support for public bond issues when there is negative press. In particular, Simpson brought up the district’s upcoming construction bond, money from which will be used to renovate the Science, Engineering and Math, Health Science, and Fine Arts buildings.
“If we send a message out that Cypress College is not supportive of student success, if we send a message out that Cypress College is not respectful of its own policies and procedures, and that message goes out to the community, as a community member,” he said, “how inclined do you think they would be to support a local bond?
“I find it distressing we are currently not speaking with a unified voice at this college,” he said.
Student Trustee Peña told The Cypress Chronicle after the meeting that Simpson’s references to the letter AS sent him were uncalled-for.
“For me that’s basically saying, ‘don’t do this again,’” Peña said. “That’s passive-aggressive, that’s what it was.”
Simpson was unavailable for comment as of press time. His staff said he had interviews to do at the district office.
Meanwhile, The Nov. 20 edition of The Orange County Register published an article titled, “Cypress College reading requirement frustrates students.” Education reporter Scott Martindale covered the issue by interviewing students and faculty who are unsatisfied with the policy.
“This is ridiculous – I don’t understand why I have to go back and take another English class just to satisfy reading proficiency,” said Paul Jan C. Macalino, 22, English major, in that article.
“They want to postpone it until March and vote on it then—when it’s not that complex of an issue,” said Peña, who is frustrated that solutions are not immediate.
Curriculum Committee Chairman Majarian said he and Stacy Howard, the campus Articulation Officer, are looking into two major solutions. Majarian said they are either looking to reexamine and reinterpret, or amend the appropriate board policies.
“We’re working overtime on this for the sake of the students,” said Majarian.
He also said possible solutions will be presented at the Academic Senate meeting Dec. 12.
“Students have a right to be involved in the process, and a right to have a voice,” said Professor Diep. “I’m proud of the students, because they’re fighting for their rights. If the students want it—and they deserve it—I support them 100 percent.”
“Adding the classes is the first step in making it equal between Fullerton and Cypress College. It’s not about picking a side,” said Peña. “It’s about seeing what’s good for students.”
Featured Photo: Claudia Peña talks about the curriculum meeting with The Cypress Chronicle Nov. 20. Photo by Sam Islam.