College Official’s Recall Demanded
Wielding picket signs and leaflets, several hundred students, teachers and residents Monday at the monthly meeting of the South Orange County Community College District demanded the recall of board President Steven J. Frogue.
A process server stood by, ready to present Frogue with documents legally notifying him that he is the object of a potential recall.
The only problem for the protesters was that Frogue didn’t show.
“President Frogue is unable to be here this evening,” said Frogue ally John Williams, who, as vice chairman of the board, conducted the meeting.
Williams’ announcement drew loud hisses and boos, even a few obscenities, as recall supporters crowded into the 404-seat McKinney Theatre on the Saddleback campus, where Chancellor Robert A. Lombardi had moved the meeting, anticipating the overflow crowd.
For one of the few times ever at the panel’s monthly gatherings, three security guards stood watch in the lobby, as shouts and angry rhetoric from people on both sides of a growing political debate tried to be heard.
Frogue has been under fire recently for casting the tie-breaking vote to approve a controversial course on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which he also planned to teach. The board had allocated $5,000 in student fees to fly in four guest speakers, one of whom contends that the Holocaust is exaggerated and that agents for the Israeli government killed Kennedy.
The board later rescinded the course, which Frogue still plans to teach on a private basis, off campus.
But two of the speakers Monday night claim that Frogue also has made anti-Semitic remarks in his classroom at Foothill High School in Santa Ana and, on occasion, expressed skepticism about historical details regarding the Holocaust.
One of the meeting’s most dramatic moments came when Danielle Brown, 21, rose to speak. Now a sophomore at Irvine Valley College--which, along with Saddleback College, is run by the district--Brown said she had been a history student of Frogue’s at Foothill High School in Santa Ana during the 1991-92 school year.
Reading from a prepared text as she addressed the board, Brown said she was forced to walk out of Frogue’s classroom one day and eventually to leave Foothill High altogether because of derogatory comments which she said Frogue made about Jews during his world cultures class. T
The remarks, which she detailed, forced her and her mother to complain bitterly to school authorities, she said.
“He also said the Holocaust did not exist,” Brown told the board.
Brown’s mother, Ethel, 53, said in an interview that she was astonished when Foothill authorities took no action against Frogue, although she commended a high school counselor “for at least listening to our complaints. But still, nothing happened.”
Danielle Brown, who attends the Mormon church, also told the board that Frogue made derogatory comments about Mormons as well.
Frogue did not return phone calls to his home Monday night.
But some of his supporters were evident at the meeting. Though they did not respond to the Browns’ allegations, two officers of the faculty union that endorsed and helped finance the campaigns of Frogue and three of his allies last November spoke on his behalf.
“The image of this college is being ruined by a minority of people who orchestrate events like this,” said faculty union representative Sharon MacMillan, 51, who lashed out at rival faculty members who are spearheading the effort to recall Frogue.
MacMillan accused what she called a small corps of dissident faculty members of “manufacturing the news” and “manipulating lies,” which drew hisses and boos from several in attendance.
A political science professor at Saddleback for more than 20 years, MacMillan said “the true picture” of what’s happening in the district is being suppressed.
But many other speakers chastised the board and Frogue in particular for a series of recent decisions that they say have subjected the district to national ridicule.
Irvine Valley student JaimePlacek, 29, accused Frogue and the other three board members who frequently vote together as a majority of “contempt for state law and district policy.”
In addition to the JFK course, she attacked the board’s decision to demote 10 department chairs at IVC and replace them with four newly imported deans from Saddleback. But she and other speakers primarily excoriated the board for making the decision in closed session.
Other speakers faulted the board for acting in closed sessions to name IVC chemistry professor Raghu P. Mathur as interim president, and later as permanent president.
But defenders of Frogue said he had a right to free speech and that the quashing of the JFK course represented an assault on a free and open curriculum.
“I will fight any attempt at censorship, however distasteful it may be,” said George Dibs, 68, a retired school official, who said he formerly headed the Ontario-Montclair School District.
Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Long Beach and Orange County, called for Frogue’s resignation, citing the nature of the speakers the board approved for the Kennedy assassination course.
Richard Gollis, 35, of the American Jewish Committee, said Frogue had “disgraced the district.”
Irv Rubin of the local chapter of the Jewish Defense League accused the board majority of “clicking its heels” and choosing to vote with Frogue on numerous issues rather than cast dissenting ballots.
The curly-haired, bespectacled Frogue, 55, an ex-Marine and a Presbyterian deacon, has taught at Foothill High for more than 30 years. The Orange County Human Relations Commission recently took formal exception to the JFK course, sending Frogue’s board a letter. At that meeting, Frogue said he was tired of having his name “dragged through the mud.”
But even before coming to the board over which he now presides, Frogue was no stranger to controversy.
In 1994, complaints from parents at Foothill High led to Frogue’s transfer from his history class to a one-year assignment managing a roomful of students serving detention, according to a source close to the case.
A tenured instructor, Frogue appealed to the school board, which voted to return him to teaching. School officials have consistently declined comment, calling it “a personnel matter.”
What triggered the complaint, according to the source, were comments Frogue allegedly had been making in class--including skepticism about the Holocaust and derogatory references to Asians and African Americans.
Frogue later denied the charges and said the transfer occurred “only because it was my turn to do it.”