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The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

DVC Professors Claim Administration Censored Emails that Supported Gaza Ceasefire

Albert+Ponce%2C+Co-Director+of+DVCs+Social+Justice+Program
DVC Inquirer
Albert Ponce, Co-Director of DVC’s Social Justice Program

Two weeks after the Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 Israelis by Hamas militants, Asad Kabir, an adjunct philosophy professor at Contra Costa College, sent an email to all staff and faculty across the Contra Costa Community College District (4CD) asking them to place posters on their office doors that stated, “Stop the Genocide in Gaza!”

The Oct. 21 email, which preceded Israel’s invasion of Gaza, was one of numerous messages regarding the Israel-Palestine crisis that faculty members sent to 4CD’s roughly 3,600 full- and part-time employees, igniting a sensitive debate among staff, faculty and administration about what constitutes appropriate use of the district’s “all employees” email list.

For Kabir and others, the blowback from those emails materialized quickly. Angered faculty and staff used the “reply all” function requesting to be removed from the email chain, citing the political nature of the emails. But that was only the beginning.

“After sending that email, I received a warning from the district that my email to all employees at CCC, [Diablo Valley College] and [Los Medanos College] violated District policies on the appropriate use of the email distribution lists,” Kabir wrote via email to The Inquirer.

As a result, “the district asked me to refrain from sending any more emails of any kind to the all-employee or all-faculty email lists.”

Two days later, on Oct. 23, the 4CD began moderating all district-wide employee emails.

According to a written statement on Feb. 7 by Jeffrey Michels, the district’s chief human resources officer, “What has changed recently is that the District decided to ‘moderate’ the lists so that email blasts to all employees now need to be approved before going out.”

“Employees can still email one another, of course, and there are many smaller listservs that classified professionals, faculty and managers use for a variety of purposes, which are not moderated,” he continued. “But the ‘everyone’ lists are now moderated.”

Almost immediately, the district’s decision sparked accusations of academic censorship from faculty. Those calls became outcries after Nov. 7, when DVC sociology professor Sangha Niyogi, who co-directs the school’s social justice program, attempted to share a petition with all DVC employees.

The petition called for a district resolution demanding a ceasefire in Israel’s war in Gaza, a release of “all hostages,” an end to Israel’s blockade of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, a “comprehensive solution” to the 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and an end of U.S. aid to Israel. 

“It was simply a petition,” said Niyogi in a recent interview, “and I sent it out saying that the DVC Racial Justice Task Force has supported this petition, but it is totally up to you folks in our DVC community whether or not you want to support this petition.”

“This was sent out BCC to all DVC employees. We’ve been instructed in the past that BCC is the protocol. You don’t send it out as CC,” she added.

“And that email never left, never went out. It was blocked.”

The blocking of the petition by district monitors infuriated Niyogi and her colleagues in the Racial Justice Task Force. “[It] obviously enraged us, because that’s the definition of censorship,” said Niyogi. 

“If you are silent about oppression, it means you support the status quo. So everything is political in that sense. You can’t be like, ‘Oh, I’m neutral, I’m in neutral territory.’ You have to always speak up against injustice and oppression.”

However, Michels claimed the district’s decision to moderate emails for their political or religious content unrelated to college business was not political at all.

“This is not really about politics so much as about how the lists are used,” Michels said. “Just this week [of Feb. 7] we had an employee decide to send everyone an ad for a Contra Costa Community College District discount to a popular clothing store.

“It looked like a good deal, so the employee wanted to share it. But the moderators intervened and determined that it wasn’t appropriate to use the ‘everyone’ listserv to send an ad for a retail store. Some people might have been glad to get it, but we try to reserve those listservs for college and district announcements only,” he said.

But this rationale did not settle the matter for DVC political science professor Albert Ponce, who co-directs the Social Justice Program with Niyogi.

Ponce claimed the call for a ceasefire petition was “not new,” and that previous messages with political content had been sent to all-staff without causing a commotion in the past. Ponce said he believed the resolution supporting a ceasefire was consistent with the values of DVC.

“Our calls for racial justice statements [are something] that the Governing Board had made before — whether it’s siding with undocumented immigrants being attacked after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, or the racist incidents that we’ve had here on campus after the murder by the state of George Floyd in 2020.”

“So this is not new, [what] we’re asking the board. We’re just saying, ‘Okay let’s be consistent. And let’s make that call.’”

Ponce said he believed the district had censored the petition due to the controversial nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that its response wasn’t transparent. “We’re asking for transparency first,” he reiterated. “Why on this issue [are the rules] only arbitrarily being selected?”

Niyogi echoed Ponce’s sentiments.

“Because it’s such a controversial issue, now, out of an abundance of caution, the district has decided that this is how they’re going to handle it,” Niyogi said.

“There’s no transparency on who is doing this censoring work,” she said. “So is it the [DVC] president herself? Is it a president and a bunch of other people? Who’s doing it? Because they also told us when we brought it up during Academic Senate and College Council [meetings] that this is district protocol.” 

In response to a request from The Inquirer, President Susan Lamb did not have any further comment and referred to the district’s statement.

According to Michels, the district has made it clear that the all-employees email list is only to be used for discussion related to work.

“Since all employees must regularly check District email as part of their work, holding political or religious or really any non-work-related discussions can interfere with our work,” Michels stated.

“And recognizing this is also part of respecting our diversity of perspectives. What may seem ‘informational’ to someone who thinks to post an article to share with colleagues (an article on the dangers of vaccination, for example), may seem politically charged and threatening to someone else.”

 

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About the Contributor
Cam Lippincott, Editor

Comments (8)

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  • G

    GregFeb 18, 2024 at 1:44 pm

    I welcome DVC’s decision to make it clear that all-employees email lists can only be used for WORK related discussion. The same should be applied to “all students” email list. And it is WRONG to assume that there is any kind of censorship here. Let’s NOT make DVC as a propaganda machine for social media subjects when we all may have different opinions : as to whether to be Democrat or Republican or why US Government has designated HAMAS a Foreign Terrorist Organization… Much better to use DVC as an Education college and stop political propaganda of some DVC professors. 

    Reply
    • P

      PaulusFeb 20, 2024 at 6:33 am

      While it’s important for DVC to focus on educational content, completely excluding discussions on world events and social issues from college communications limits our educational scope. Awareness of global affairs, including political and social issues, is crucial for well-rounded education. It’s not about propaganda, but about encouraging critical thinking and informed citizenship. The goal is to prepare students not just academically, but also as engaged and knowledgeable members of society.

      Furthermore regarding these so very much “passionate educators” who don’t like anything to interfere with their so hardworking days, lets get one thing very clear, there’s a growing concern at DVC regarding the use of outdated instructional materials and assignments by some professors. It’s essential for educators to stay current in their respective fields, ensuring that the information and perspectives they provide to students are relevant and up-to-date. Reliance on old textbooks and recycled assignments, some of which inadvertently reveal their age through outdated due dates, suggests a lack of engagement and innovation in teaching. This not only undermines the quality of education but also fails to prepare students for the rapidly evolving world. It’s crucial for DVC to address this issue, encouraging faculty to continually update their course content and teaching methods to reflect the latest developments in their fields and the real world.

      All in All this reply should be a concern to any and all professors who fall into these failure categories and the president shall take a closer approach to this issue just as the Gaza Concern Email was taken a closer look at.

      Much Respect to our Apologetics who stand their grounds defending the dignity of the ones who are unfairly being slaughtered and massacred in broad daylight while our so beloved and passionate educators sit back and watch it happen while their students are made busy out of their mind with outdated educational material.

      Identity: The Voice of All Who Are Silenced.

      Reply
  • K

    Kristin AndersonFeb 15, 2024 at 11:39 am

    Thanks to the leadership of DVC for blocking the disturbing (to me) non-work-related emails. If the senders had abided by the policy in the first place and been sensitive to the fact that others may hold opinions different from their own, there would not be a need for moderation. But many people continued to send emails even when it was requested that they stop, which was not only disrespectful to their colleagues and the DVC community as a whole, but bordered on harassment.

    Reply
  • N

    NBFeb 15, 2024 at 8:59 am

    I don’t understand why do we have to receive emails about Palestine? I mean we are not receiving emails about Ukraine, are we? As a Muslim teacher in the district, I just want to do my job without receiving emails about political dilemmas around the world. Is this too much to ask?
    Thank you CCCCD for blocking unrelated emails.

    Reply
    • A

      AnonymousFeb 15, 2024 at 2:25 pm

      As a muslim student in DVC, our brothers and sisters in Palestine are being killed and ya’ll are upset that you’re getting emailed a petition for a ceasefire? Educate yourself.

      Over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupation, that’s 30,000+ innocent men, women, and children. OUR UMMAH ARE BEING KILLED IN FRONT OF OUR EYES. A genocide is being live-streamed and people like you in the world are silent, hearts like yours are blind. May Allah guide you.

      Reply
      • D

        Diane SmithFeb 20, 2024 at 7:54 pm

        Perhaps you should use your name here as required by this site, and not hide while posting inflammatory and deceptive posts. Your post is exactly why these should not be sent.

        Reply
    • S

      Susan TurnquistFeb 15, 2024 at 4:06 pm

      The annoyance from employees had nothing to do with whether they agree or disagree with the senders. Our professional email was being inundated with heated discussions that were stressful and distracting.

      We are trying to work. This is not social media. Office email is not the space to be debating political issues. There was space made for these discussions.

      Reply
  • E

    Ed SantosFeb 15, 2024 at 8:02 am

    The emails are political and not work related! How about those using the college email systems for political reasons focus instead on education.

    Reply