Presses Stopped at Two Community Colleges

El Vaquero Staff Writer

To cope with continued financial difficulties, officials of the Ventura County Community College District have decided to cut journalism programs, and the newspapers they produce, on their Oxnard and Ventura campuses at the end of the spring semester.

On March 8, in efforts to counter the effects of budget cuts at the state level, the Board of Trustees for the Ventura County Community College District voted 3-2 in favor of discontinuing several programs at all three of the Colleges in its district.

Administrators have not singled out journalism programs. Ramiro Sanchez, executive vice-president of student learning for Oxnard College, said that interpretation of American Sign Language, theater arts, electronics, and hotel management programs are also being cut. “We looked at programs that had zero growth, and that had negative growth…. We looked for the least impact it would have on students.”
However, many involved feel cutting the journalism and newspaper programs will have anything but “the least impact” on students.

“The school newspaper serves not just a handful of students who are involved with putting it together, it serves the entire campus community,” said Rich Cameron, online communications director for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC).

“These newspapers are the only news that students have
on campus,” said Toni Allen, Oxnard College’s head of
journalism. “It really starts to become a press-freedom, [and] student’s first amendment
rights issue.”

It is suggested that students from Ventura and Oxnard Colleges who are interested in learning journalism, after the cancellations, can attend classes at the district’s third college, Moorpark, said Carol Weinstock, head of the journalism department for Ventura College. “However it happens to be at least an hours drive away on the other side of the county.”

Weinstock’s retirement coincides the cancellation of these programs; she and Allen both said that her retirement might have played a part in the decision to place journalism on the “chopping block.” “They just said here’s a position we can cut, and along with it all of the expenses of producing a newspaper,” Weinstock said.

Oxnard’s “Campus Observer” and Ventura’s “VC Press” would also be consolidated into a single newspaper program produced at Moorpark. “In theory, the paper would be printed there and distributed on all three campuses,” said Cameron. “Other school districts… have tried that in the past, but it almost never works.”

Still, “cutting programs was not the first thing we looked at,” said Sanchez. “We looked at attrition, we looked at layoffs, we looked at a use of non-instructional funds.” But after these efforts, Oxnard College was still short of the roughly $1.8 million needed. Similar efforts at Moorpark and Ventura were also lacking, for what in total is a nearly $7.5 million deficit.

Faculty and students from both colleges as well as JACC officials have made efforts to persuade Administrators to take other measures. “I’m doing anything that I can do to keep these programs alive,” said Allen. “We’re looking at outside sources to help out with funding, I’ve offered to split my [class load] between two colleges.”

On March 15, in an organized walkout, more than 400 students from Oxnard and Ventura colleges gathered on their respective campuses to protest the canceling of programs. Also, members of the Oxnard College journalism program have presented management officials with a proposal, which Sanchez says is “under review.”

Steve White, Glendale College’s vice-president of administrative services said, in regards to a similar situation involving GCC’s aviation program, “that students in all the other programs suffer with too few resources and too few classes in order to keep a failing program afloat.”

Still, White also said “the complicating factor to consider when examining the Journalism Program is the importance of the newspaper to the life of the campus even if enrollment is not as strong as we would like it.”

As Cameron put it “eliminating these valuable courses in these times simply is short-sighted. Instead, revitalizing the colleges programs would seem more appropriate.”