By Augustine Ugalde Jr.
The Los Angeles Community College District has been difficult to deal with since day one, whenever approached by someone carrying the “student journalist” moniker.
I have never known a more uncooperative group of people in my life.
The most disturbing part of this scenario is that these are the people who are entrusted with our educations.
We are their students.
It has been nearly two years since former chancellor Marshall E. Drummond deprived us of the pleasure of his company when I was assigned the task of reporting the details involving his unexpected resignation.
His disgraceful departure was treated by the District as though it was a matter of national security.
Trying to extract any information from the District about the circumstances surrounding Drummond was like pulling teeth.
I am certain that if I had been a member of a professional news agency, I wouldn’t have been stonewalled by the District.
Journalists are not supposed to publish innuendo, rumors or hearsay; therefore it is imperative that we investigate our assignments and write articles based on facts and facts only.
The pursuit of these facts resulted in being bounced from department to department trying to find anyone who would go on record to speak about his departure, but it was all for naught.
For those few people that did speak with me, no doubt because of necessity, their comments were measured and uninformative.
“We don’t talk about these things to the press,” is a term coined by Public Information Officer Lillian Marzariegos.
It has become a familiar mantra among District members.
These stonewalling tactics beg the question: what is the District trying to hide?
During a recent gathering of fellow student-journalists in Sacramento, I had a rare opportunity to speak to several colleagues from other district schools.
Students from Pierce, Valley and Los Angeles City Colleges all voiced similar experiences in dealing with the District.
The Drummond case is not an isolated incident.
Time and again, attempts at penetrating the veil of secrecy surrounding the District have been met with unanswered phone calls, unreturned voice messages and ignored emails.
At the same conference, I met Gale Holland from the Los Angeles Times.
Holland and Michael Finnegan were the two L.A. Times journalists who exposed the waste of several million dollars of bond monies on the construction of new facilities at District schools.
When asked if she had encountered any resistance in dealing with the District as many student journalists had, she had this to say: “We had enough access to the District to publish eight stories.”
Clearly, the District cooperates with professional news writers and just as apparent is the district’s lack of cooperation with its own student journalists.
L.A. Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke has a similar take on this situation.
Plaschke accepted a challenge from a Campus News writer to come to campus to review and critique Campus News.
“Districts have always had that type of attitude when dealing with student journalists,” said Plaschke.
“You may as well get used to it,” said Plaschke.
As much as I respect and enjoy reading Plaschke’s articles, I do not share his view on “just getting used to it.”
The District must be held accountable to all members of the press, whether they be professionals or students.
One student at the conference had a unique perspective about the situation at hand.
Fellow student journalist, Linda Cochran, who is an older student at Mission College in Santa Clara, offered this observation about college districts in general.
“Districts don’t know how to handle us,” said Cochran.
“With the bad economy, many older students like you and I have now returned to college.”
“What is happening is that older students cannot be so easily dismissed when they respond to our questions as younger, more inexperienced students are, so they react by not wanting to talk to us,” said Cochran.
She has had similar experiences with her district as LACCD student journalists have had, so apparently the LACCD has no exclusivity on bad manners and bad habits.
All we ask is to just talk to us.