Ventura-Oxnard board cuts student newspapers

Chris Cadelago

Ventura and Oxnard community college students demanded Thursday in a meeting with their district chancellor that he help restore their newspapers and journalism programs.

The Ventura district Board of Trustees voted 3-2 March 8 to cut $4.6 million in academic programs and campus services. Among the programs cut are Ventura College’s “VC Press” and Oxnard’s “Campus Observer” newspapers, along with their journalism support classes.

Both colleges are to share publication with Moorpark’s “Reporter.”

District leaders countered that the journalism program was cut because of low student enrollment and its high cost to operate. James Meznek, chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District, said the district would save $61,000 in salary by cutting Oxnard’s program and $128,000 by slashing Ventura’s.

“I don’t know anything about journalism, but I do know I am sitting in a $1.8 million hole I need to fill by June 30,” said Meznek. “We wanted to make sure that there would be a student newspaper for our district.”

The idea of one publication split between three campuses is being met with strong opposition from Ventura and Oxnard students.

“I will not write for a one-district paper,” said Karina Gonzalez, assistant editor of the “Campus Observer.” “And I know my staff won’t either.”

What was planned as a sit-in outside Meznek’s office Thursday became a sit-down between him and 20 students at Ventura’s district facility. Students asked Meznek to guarantee he would put journalism classes on the Fall ’05 schedule. He denied.

Plans are currently being drafted to use Moorpark’s program to teach interested students from all three colleges’ introductory journalism via teleconferencing. The journalism programs at all three colleges would be taught by one full-time advisor and a part-time assistant. If the plans are not drawn-up and approved by May 15, there will be no journalism classes for either Ventura or Oxnard students, said retiring Ventura advisor Carol Weinstock.

Oxnard advisor Toni Allen has researched past instances of multi-campus programs. She said that in a diverse county, demographics play a large role and that there is no cookie cutter template one can use to ensure student success.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s absurd-it will never work,” she said. “And it’s never worked before.”

Weinstock added that the lack of student-to-teacher contact imperative to learning the craft would be lost in the translation of technology.

The Ventura College “VC Press” has been in print since 1925 and has won the Journalism Association of Community College’s general excellence award three of the last five years. Weinstock said the Press has received support from the “Ventura County Star” as well as alumni throughout the country. Testimonials were read and presented from alumni who attributed all their professional journalistic success to these programs.

“We are not just losing our newspaper or our classes,” said “Campus Observer” Managing Editor Keith Norris. “We stand to lose an important forum; we stand to lose our voice.”

Meznek said he personally values these two newspapers yet their high cost and lack of revenue to the school makes them a liability. He said that with overall enrollment down 4 percent this year, the district has lost $2.8 million in equalization.

Students of Oxnard and Ventura are actively seeking grants to self-fund their programs. The grants submitted must be approved and signed by Meznek.

When asked about the possibility of this happening, Norris replied dejectedly, “We’re waiting and hoping, but it’s looking really bad.”