The following article is excerpted from a recent intreview by Russ Emal with Mendocino County Supervisor, Seiji Sugawara. Mr. Sugawara has worked at the College as a part-time instructor. The full interview will appear in the January EAGLE newspaper if space is available.
Russ Emal for the EAGLE: Mr. Sugawara, have you had any experiences here at the college that unfairly limited your freedom of expression?
Sugawara: "Around 1990, I put up a number of political posters in the Eagles Nest supporting Diane Finestein for Governor. I found that each morning the posters would be gone. I found out that it was the college custodial staff that was removing them. I went in to see Dean Madrigal about this and he admitted that it was the administration at the college who were having them removed. I pointed out to him that even at Beijing University, where at that time oppression came into the world wide spotlight, allowed political posters and even some political activity on their campus. I asked him why we didn't allow it. He told me that there was a State of California code that prohibited political activity on public school grounds. I felt the school was wrong and was misinterpreting the law. The law generally did not prohibit political access to the students. It did so only if all opposing political parties weren't allowed to share in that access. To the credit of Mendocino College administration, after that discussion, I again replaced posters and they were no longer removed. But, I site this as an example of what I deem as extreme conservatism of this colleges administration. It tends to not want to get involved in anything that might be controversial."
"Another incident that demonstrates the same kind of reluctance to be in anyway linked to political activity happened in 1994. A reporter who had worked for Channel Eight in Ukiah was now working for a collation of organizations that were working to stop the reelection of Pete Wilson. I and many others in the community were contacted and asked to appear on video. We all felt that Governor Wilson did not give enough financial support to education. She asked us to meet her at Mendocino College for the taping. As we arrived at the gates to the college, much to my surprise, there stood President Carl Ehmann requesting that we not enter the campus. Being a non-confrontational group we agreed. All I wanted was more money for college education and what better place to share my opinions then at Mendocino College, a place that needed and still needs more money. This was again an example of hypersensitivity to issues that may be thought of as controversial."
Emal: I firmly believe that one of the primary missions of any school is to make sure we have citizens that can participate in the democratic process. It seems to me that political activity ought to be incouraged on campus. Certainly there should be opportunities for discussion amongst us showing differing perspectives so people can more meaningfully participate.
Was interfering with your activities a form or censorship?
Sugawara: "I would not go as far as to accuse them of actively censoring us but my prospective is that administration has strong discomfort with anything controversial or likely to make waves around the institution. In their effort to minimize controversy, the results could be called censorship."
Emal: Is the Eagle being censored by closing the school's web page link to the newspaper? Should that have been done?
Sugawara: "Any manager seeks to run their organization in a way that controls information. If you can do this, you can effectively deal with those who have different opinions or a different prospective. So there is a natural tendency to try and control information flow. The only problem is that with the tremendous access now available from the media it becomes futile to attempt this. What you need to do is understand that information is out there and you must use that access to make your best case for your position and not try to shut down communication links or to try and control various perspectives. You need to use the media. Not try to stop it. I feel that the school closing the Eagle link is most unfortunate. When you try to control information flow alternative information routes develop. They often become more damaging in that they then report the censorship. That is why underground newspapers come into being. If there was free flow of information through the formal channels there would be no need for informal channels."
"The nature of authorizing the existence of a newspaper is such that you, must give it a somewhat free reign. While there are some limits, they should be rather broad and flexible. Unless there are clear ethical or moral standards that you can demonstrate are being violated you must err on the side of free expression. That is what communication is all about. It's about allowing people with different perspectives to interchange ideas. If you stop that by drawing a very back and white limit you defeat the whole purpose."
"I think that your rights to publish the information contained in the Eagle Extra, if reviewed by your advisors and Susan Bell, certainly exist. If you obtained that information legally you had that right. I may not agree with publishing the Extra but I believe you had the right."