Consultant Tries to Ban Corsair

Writers from the Santa Monica College Corsair were banned from actively covering the so-called "open meetings" held on campus Tuesday as part of the search for SMC's next president.

In a dramatic confrontation between Corsair reporters and consultant Abel B Sykes, Jr., who was chosen by the SMC Board of Trustees' to gather feedback from campus constituencies, the scheduled meeting with students was delayed more than an hour as Sykes ignored the consensus of all students present and insisted the writers leave before the discussion could begin.

Earlier in the day, Corsair reporters were asked to leave meetings with classified employees and faculty. But at the 1:15 p.m. meeting for student leaders, Corsair writers stood their ground.

After 15 minutes into the stalemated meeting and after repeating that the non-complying reporters could not stay, a clearly frustrated Sykes asked SMC staff member Lisa Rose to call Corsair advisor Barbara Baird.

Much to his chagrin, Baird supported the reporter's stance and came to the meeting herself to voice her own sentiments.

"I think it makes a sham of open hearings," said Baird. "This seems an effort to control the discussion."

Upon hearing this last comment, Sykes became visibly upset and struggled a few moments to compose a response.

"What we want is a policy of absolute openness," said Sykes.

Mark Abraham, one of three students chosen by the trustees to be part of a 16-member Presidential Search Committee, asked, "Isn't the Corsair's presence here part of the idea of openness? It would be a benefit to students at SMC to understand what's going on. I'm at a loss to understand why they can't report what they see to the students."

SMC student and Eco-Action Club president Sai Duhamel asked, "What if the students here voted about this?"

"This is not an issue to be decided by the student body," said Sykes, indicating that the rules of the game had been decided by the consultants and with no input from students. When asked why the press was not told they would not be welcomed, Sykes said, "they were told at the appropriate time," referring to the disclosure at the 10:15 a.m. meeting with classified employees.

Of the 12 students attending, those present were less than satisfied that the process was being forced on them irrespective of their concerns as the discussion went round and round.

Nehasi Lee, a well-known SMC student who has served in student government and written for the Corsair, arrived about 45 minutes into the meeting and quickly engaged in the dialogue to support the writers' continued presence.

"Is it about you being threatened?" Lee asked of Sykes. Sykes said that not allowing press coverage was intended to encourage frank and open comments by participants. "People respond differently with the press present," he said.

Lee responded, "You need to ask everyone here how they feel. What impact does this have on the students? You're speaking for the students, not letting us speak for ourselves."

"It seems you are the only one who will limit what we say," said Duhamel. "It's on you. I left class because this is so important to me."

"Some processes are subject to a majority vote," said Sykes. "This is not one of those issues." Abraham said, "It would be a great travesty to the students if this reporter was not allowed to take notes and report to the students."

As the students refused to easily give in to the demands of Sykes, some also expressed growing frustration that the opportunity for giving student input on selecting a new college president was elapsing.

Dina Cervantes, student trustee, said, "We do need to move on with the process." Lillian Cavalieri, A.S. president-elect for 2005-2006, voiced similar frustrations as she lost interest in the fight for journalistic access.

With concerns all around, Sykes tried to soften his stance and suggested that writers with the Corsair could stay, just not in any capacity as reporters. But the remaining writer (one had left a little earlier) was unwilling to concede his rights and responsibilities as a journalist, perceiving Sykes' repackaged choice as untenable-- essentially prohibiting him from writing about what he was witnessing.At that point, well past an hour into the meeting, Baird and the writer left in quiet protest.