An open letter, to the Faculty Council of the New College of California,
We want to take this time to tell you our story and to make a case for change at the New College of
California, based on our experience, our research, our analysis, and our hope. Some of what we have
to say will be difficult to hear, but we hope that you understand that we speak from a place of great love
for radical education and genuine transformation. We ask you to have the patience to hear us out.
This summer, when both of us were traveling in Mexico, we heard the news that marked the beginning
of the most difficult period of our time at this school: our entire program, our fragile little community,
had been broken up. Railroaded out of recognizable existence, our program had exploded with the
indignant resignations of our directors and the simultaneous resignation, in protest, of almost the entire
student body of the Activism and Social Change (ASC) MA program. We were online every day,
communicating with our professors and colleagues, trying to find out what was going on.
At that time, during the first week in June, Media Studies alumnus Ian Elwood set up a riseup.net group
to talk about the problems and changes at the school. On this list of about 100 New College
community members, our entire department, students and faculty, were repeatedly attacked by
messages from an anonymous source. Of course we were horrified to receive these disgusting emails,
and we were shocked when we found out that they came from a faculty member. But now we
understand the history that makes these seemingly insane communications make sense. We highlight
these emails now, because they openly state the real feeling of hostility against our excellent program
that is more quietly, but still hurtfully, expressed by many members of the New College community.
ASC MA and BA program co-directors Helene Vosters and Rachael Stryker led our program through
the contentious fall 2006 semester, during the revelations about school founder Jack Leary. These
events hit some members of our department, and our larger community, with the pain perhaps only
understandable by those who have worked hard in their lives to overcome, and struggle against, rape
and sexual abuse. Not Leary himself, but the school’s denial of responsibility to share this history,
inspired people across the school who joined the voices of abuse survivors, determined to act against
silence, for justice, and for positive change in every forum: inside the school, inside the city, inside the
country, and in the rest of the world.
This discussion and action around the failure of the college to release the Leary information
responsibly, further politicized what was already a contentious relationship between the directors of
ASC and the school's administration. Sadly, fourteen months after the SF Weekly article was released,
the college still has not published a letter to the community at large expressing honesty and regret
around school founder Father Leary’s story. The Jesuits did issue a very compassionate letter, also
accessible online, that might be useful to use as a reference when you, the faculty, and the
administration, draft one.
During the time of intense school discussion around Leary’s history, ASC MA students experienced
hostility on and off campus, directly related to this issue. Professor Daniel Cassidy’s emails are a later
extension of these and other hostilities. We know that these hateful emails were seen by some of you
because you received the same posts that we did. Adam Cornford, Jon Garfield, and Linda Meyers all
sent communication to this riseup.net group; the archives can be accessed online. But not one faculty
member on the list openly expressed concern for us, or our teachers, the objects of harassment by a
professor. We know that many people inside of the college have received Cassidy’s abusive verbal and
written attacks. We know that the executive council knew about his behavior for years.
President Luis Molina, Michael McAvoy, and Marina Sitrin saw these hate mails a month ago, and we
have had no reply from them. You all must begin to act more responsibly now. We thank the faculty
council for being the first to respond to us with serious concern about our grievance. We urge you to
help us to process our complaint against this professor because of his illegal and abusive behavior
towards us, which created an unsafe environment for learning for all of the Activism and Social Change
program students at this school. Because we do not believe that the faculty council can be neutral in
this case, we ask you to help us work with an independent neutral party who will help to hear our
grievance in the coming weeks.
We know that the administration’s mistreatment of our department stemmed from long before this
debacle. It is related to their basic mistreatment of all of you, the faculty, who have never been
structurally empowered for autonomous decision-making in this school. Those that have been in the
rulers’ favor have been in the in-group, empowered through personal networks to create and maintain
the school. The rest of the faculty have been exposed—in varying levels of intensity—to the whim of
those at the top. As students in a department that was considered a “threat” by the administration of the
college, we have felt the real and ugly effects of this system. Right now, we are in need of the swift
application of structures of accountability—including a prompt grievance process with the possible
results clearly stated.
President Martin Hamilton refused to meet with our program’s co-directors for the nine months
following the community meeting about the Leary scandal. This was an unacceptable demonstration of
disregard for institutional integrity and accountability to faculty and students.
During their stay in the ASC program, our directors Kai and Helene, and later Rachael, learned first-
hand of the abuses of power by those in charge of the school. It is no surprise to us that in January of
last year, a substantial group of faculty and staff from across the school’s programs went and reported
to WASC that the school was out of line. Reporting New College’s gross violations of power and
process is an act that has been done by community members here, faculty and students, many times:
notably, sixty students did so in a brave allied effort in 1995. Only a powerful group like WASC, from
outside of the school, can hope to provide the necessary leverage needed to combat the ruling clique
who have used many techniques in order to maintain the totality of their control.
In late May, the executive council of the college (Martin Hamilton, Michael McAvoy, Linda Meyers,
and Peter Gabel) made personnel decisions for the ASC MA program over the stated objections of our
department directors. The executive council’s decision demonstrated clear disrespect for process and
authority within the ASC MA program. Instead, hierarchical, centralized authority outside of the
program negated the power of the department's internal process. The voices of faculty and students
were not included in this decision-making. Our directors’ request for appeal was flatly denied.
The executive council stopped our co-directors from enacting their plan for the hire that was to be
made in our department; Helene Vosters and Rachael Stryker proposed putting out an open call, doing
several interviews, and then selecting the new faculty for our program. Instead, the executive council
forced the program to hire the council’s choice of new ASC MA program faculty, with no review
process. Over the stated objections of our directors, Marina Sitrin was hired as core faculty, and
Michael McAvoy was moved into his onetime position of program director. Every faculty member and
student in the department objected to these unilateral decisions of the executive council that were
enacted nonetheless, against the will of our entire program. Our remaining director, Helene, resigned
her post in protest, along with core faculty member, and former co-director, Rachael Stryker.
The exodus of the majority of students from two ASC MA cohorts stems directly from these events.
The loss of tuition money to the school was at least $150,000. These students have suffered academic
and financial setbacks that are very real and very painful. We urge you all to think of our colleagues
right now. They left a program that was no longer recognizable to them under a barrage of political
attacks and verbal abuse. We imagine every one of our twenty lost colleagues standing here with us
We also recognize that when Helene Vosters was singled out for a “layoff” in September, that this was
done in the spirit of political retribution. This is unacceptable. The practice of retribution keeps our
faculty in fear of action, and keeps students quiet as well. Waiting for our grades, our work-study
checks, and our diplomas, we fear retribution even as we speak out now. But we must act to break the
dominant narrative that denies our story and our truth!
Today, six months after our program was destroyed, after mishandling just about every communication
with former, on-leave, and even current students, without even telling the four remaining current
students about the changes that were to be made, Michael McAvoy has resigned his position to Marina
Sitrin, who now holds the title of program coordinator. Michael often tells us that he started our
program—itself a dubious claim—and therefore he seems to think that he has rights to any position in
it that he chooses. We beg to differ. He pushed Helene out of a job he didn’t even want, regardless of
the fact that this decision meant the loss of eighty percent of the students in the program, as well as our
entire faculty! He continues to deny the unquestionable veracity of our story.
Sadly, this semester’s new "program," with four remaining students and four faculty/staff, has been
extremely disappointing. Despite our request, they have not formally apologized to us, the students
who got burned by this whole process. They have never effectively reached out to the students who
left, to begin negotiations for the minimal ethical obligation of a teach-out. They have mishandled
communication with us, their current students, throughout this semester, even when we have given
them the benefit of the doubt. We and our colleagues on-leave have multiple unanswered emails from
our farce of a program right now. We ask them to change their behavior starting at this moment. We
repeat to them our request for a written apology for all ASC MA students. If they are in need of a
template, they might want to look at the kind apology from the Board of Trustees to ostracized
PHLUTE students that has been on the school’s website since August. We expect the same to come to
ASC MA students. Then perhaps the hard work can begin of figuring out how these students can be
offered compensation or a dignified teach-out, neither of which has genuinely been offered yet.
We have explored the history and practices of the power structure within the college through our
experiences and our contacts here, and also through web research and online communications. So we
know that the gutting of our program is but one event within a repetitive historical process that includes
not only what we often see as a “lack of structure,” but also, consistent gross misuse of power by the
administration of the college, and the alienation of generations of teachers and students who have come
here in good faith. In the world of governance, this school has functioned most closely to a totalitarian
dictatorship ruled by a small elite. If faculty could have been involved in real governance all along, our
department would still stand. We need the faculty to be empowered to act autonomously from the
administration of the school right now.
New College will never survive if it continues as it has been. Totalitarianism, and the use of personal
networks of power, are not sustainable practices in any sphere. Participatory governance and systems
of accountability are what can save the school, and really, those things wouldn’t just save the school;
they would make it better than it has ever been. Because what it has been is a shame. Even though
brilliant and radical faculty and students have always been attracted to New College, particularly
through its stated mission and its physical location, not all worthy parties have been afforded the
opportunity to truly flourish here.
Many people (including some of those in the highest circles) in the larger community of the Bay Area
are well aware of the struggle inside of New College, and our community stands against the elite
network of the school rulers and their friends. We believe that this ruling group, that is, the former
executive council of the college, and their closest allies—because of their long history of abusing
power in this way—should be dismissed from participation at the school, and should not have influence
here in the future. To us, this means that none of them should have any financial dealings here, as
employees, or as donors, and they should not sit on any boards or committees. We ask you, the faculty,
to carry our request with you in the struggle ahead. If you do this, we will support you with all of our
power, with every effort towards building large-scale community solidarity in order to save this school.
The Bay Area, and all of the exciting and diverse movements that we come from, will be motivated to
build back burned bridges with a school that is making, and exhibiting, this radical shift. Our support
as a school will come from our community when we show real change. Without this change, our
community will not support New College. We ask you to consider this seriously.
We have heard the attack that students like us have met with over the years: “you are trying to destroy
the school.” But nothing could be further from the truth. We reject the implicit violence in the false
call for “unity” that we often hear. We seek to promote a vision for this college based on real social
movement work that highlights coming together around points of solidarity by negotiating across
complex difference. We believe that when we work towards this seriously here at New College, the
diverse movements that we come from will really get to shine. These movements provide us with the
political philosophy to effectively analyze and act upon our situation here at the school now.
The college does not belong to the rulers of the school, despite their claim to its ownership because of
their version of "History." New College is all of the people who have come through here, as students,
as teachers, as community organizers, as artists, as visitors, as neighbors. New College may still have a
golden opportunity to be a place that truly exists in harmony and reciprocal relationship with the great
“movement of movements” we are all trying to build. The college does not belong to one select group.
The missions, visions, and values of the school do not belong to one select group, and they never have.
New College is here for the people, in the service of the common good! New College is of the people
and for the people! Power to the people! Our time is now!
We cannot change the past; we can only start today. Today you all have the power to work in the
interest of your students, this school, our community and our movements. Act now and you may help
to save the very definition of radical higher education and alternative institutions. We ask you to create
a new day so we can begin the real work we must do of building the future now. Acknowledge the
history, and work for change today. This is what we do as activists, and as agents for social change, in
Activism and Social Change MA Program
Our six requests:
• Help us to process our grievance (using a neutral outside arbiter) against a professor who sent us
• Faculty/admin: publish a letter of concern about Father Leary
• ASC MA program and Michael McAvoy: publish a written apology for all ASC MA students.
• The swift application of structures of accountability—including a prompt grievance process with the
possible results clearly stated
• Faculty must be empowered to act autonomously from the administration of the school
• The former executive council of the college, and their closest allies—because of their long history
of abusing power—should be dismissed from participation at the school, and should not have influence
here in the future. To us, this means that none of them should have any financial dealings here, as
employees, or as donors, and they should not sit on any boards or committees.