Student Trustee Simon Fraser sent a scathing email to the Board of Trustees on Friday detailing his involvement in the commencement debacle and categorically denied that the formal invitation he sent to Academy Award winner and PCC alumnus Dustin Lance Black to be this year’s commencement speaker was unauthorized.

Dustin Lance Black (Courtesy of Neville Kiser)
Dustin Lance Black
(Courtesy of Neville Kiser)
Simon Fraser (Barney Soto/Courier)
Simon Fraser
(Barney Soto/Courier)
Robert Bell (Benjamin Simpson/Courier)
Robert Bell
(Benjamin Simpson/Courier)
Heba Philip Griffiths (Rocio Vera/Courier)
Heba Philip Griffiths
(Rocio Vera/Courier)

Fraser said he was distraught by what he described as the Board’s betrayal.

The invitation was allegedly rescinded by the Board because of sexually explicit images of Black with a former boyfriend that surfaced on the internet in 2009. Board of Trustees President Anthony Fellow expressed concerns that inviting Black would invite more focus on the college’s recent sex scandals.

“With the porno professor and the sex scandals we’ve had on campus this last year, it just didn’t seem like the right time for Mr. Black to be the speaker,” Fellow said. “We’ll be on the radio and on the television. We just don’t want to give PCC a bad name.”

Black, an LGBT equality advocate, described the Board’s actions as a “cruel act” and an attempt to “shame” him. Black sent an open letter to the Courier on Thursday addressing the issue directly to PCC students. His letter has garnered global attention in the media.

In his letter, Fraser was infuriated and said that Fellow used him as a scapegoat for the commencement fiasco. He argued that Fellow did not give proper information regarding the invitation process to those who inquired.

“The reason why I sent the email to the trustees in the first place was because I became aware, not an hour ago, [Friday night] that Dr. Fellow was using me as the blame guy for the whole debacle. I want to categorically state that Dr. Fellow’s assertions are not true…I can not fathom why the district has decided to blame me. Why Dr. Fellow decided to also blame one of his colleagues for this when it was clearly his decision to not invite Mr. Black,” Fraser said in an interview with the Courier Friday night.

Black’s assistant Neville Kiser released a statement to the Courier which seems to support Fraser’s characterizations of the events.

“This is so bizarre. Here is what we were told in an official email from PCC, from Simon who was acting on behalf of Heba [Griffiths, Interim Associate Dean of Student Life ] and Dr. Bell’s [ Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs] command. This was language Heba specifically reviewed from Dr. Bell and told Simon to write not from Simon himself.. Note Heba was CC’d on this email and never once retracted or said this was not coming from [the] board. So [they] can not throw Simon under the bus. And [someone] is lying to students with his claims he never invited [Black],” Kiser wrote.

Kiser included in his statement an email, dated March 11, 2014, that the Black camp believed was the formal invitation for Black to be the commencement speaker at PCC.

“On behalf of Heba Griffiths, Interim Associate Dean of Student Life at Pasadena City College, we would like to formally invite Mr. Black to conduct the commencement address to the students as we celebrate our theme of “Proud Past, Global Future,” the email said.”

“The college apologizes for the lateness of the email but hopes that you will take our request into consideration. If you could let us know Mr. Black’s availability by Friday, March 28th, the college staff would be greatly appreciative. Please feel free to contact me, or Ms. Griffiths, via phone or email if there are any specific questions.”

Black believed this formal invitation was quite clear. “The invitation language is so clear to how NOT vague it is,” said Black in a separate statement.

Fraser’s email to Kiser extending the “formal invitation” to Black seems to contradict another email, obtained by the Courier through a public records request, and sent by Robert Bell on April 14, 2014 to Neville Kiser. Bell’s entire email can be read below:

“Good evening Neville,

By way of introduction, my name is Dr. Robert H. Bell and I serve as Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs for Pasadena City College. I am contacting you to follow up on previous communications regarding Mr. Black appearing as commencement speaker for Pasadena City College on May 9, 2014.

First, allow me to apologize for the time it has taken to get back to you and Mr. Black. As you have undoubtedly discerned, there have been a number of discussions that have occurred within the college surrounding the decision of the commencement speaker, which have contributed to the delay in providing you and Mr. Black with a more timely response.

I wish to inform you that Mr. Black will not need to rearrange his busy schedule to appear as commencement speaker. I understand that Mr. Black’s time is valuable and important and, again, I apologize for the delay in finalizing this with you and him.

Please extend to Mr. Black my sincere appreciation for his gracious consideration. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Best regards, Dr. Robert H. Bell,” the email read.

Board member Jeanette Mann release a brief statement. “The Board President is the spokesperson for the Board. I will not be making a comment,” Mann said.

Fraser’s email to PCC’s Board of Trustees was obtained by the Courier can be read in full below:

Simon Fraser

Student Trustee

Pasadena Area Community College District | (626) 585-[XXXX]

From: Simon W. Fraser
Sent: Friday, April 18, 2014 5:58 PM
To: Ross S. Selvidge; Jeanette Mann; Berlinda Brown Offcampus; William E. Thomson; Linda Wah – Offcampus; John Martin; Anthony Fellow
Subject: On commencement

Dear colleagues,

In reviewing articles online, I saw this comment posted:

“I wrote an email to Anthony Fellows – the Board President, who responded to my email by stating “The real reason Mr. Black is not the commencement speaker is that he was never invited to be the commencement speaker by the person who makes that decision–the president of the college, which is standard throughout the United States. The student trustee made the invitation without consulting the board or the president. That is not the process at PCC or any other college or university.”” As I was writing this, I received another email directly from [XXXX] stating The student member of the Board invited the speaker unbeknownst to anyone else. The commencement speaker is invited by the President with the support of the Board. No member of the Board can invite the commence speaker on their own. Ralph”

I feel the need to clarify precisely what happened, as I am afraid that the District is attempting to scapegoat me for being a messenger. I feel this is inappropriate, and absolutely not a reflection of the facts. Further, as a colleague of the Board, I am deeply distressed to find that I am being used as the fodder for the fallout of this decision without a single person from the Board or the administration talking to me.

To be very clear: after the CCLC conference in November, I reached out to DLB’s team, being very open about who I was and my status as a student hear, asking if he would be willing to come to speak to our Queer Alliance club, or the campus community in general, about his journey. Commencement was not mentioned. Separately, I put his name into consideration by attending the commencement committee meeting. It was well received.

I stayed completely out of the commencement committee discussions after that, and then voted in favour of the consent items during our March meeting, which included the shortlist. After that, I was informed that Dr. Bell and Dean Griffiths would split the list in half and send them all invites, and it was indicated that “whoever accepted first would be our speaker.” I do not have this in writing, but am certain of my recollection.

During spring break, while I was in New Orleans, I was asked to call Dean Griffiths. I did so, and she indicated that she had been given the direction to “use connections to make the invite.” As in, if there is someone with a connection to the person being invited, they should make the outreach. This was a point reiterated by a board member at a previous board meeting, even. I was the person with the closest contact to DLB, and so was asked. I asked for a template to use when sending the email. This was provided and, except for changing very basic terms to ensure that it read “he” or “she” instead of “I” or “you,” the email was sent, practically unchanged from the template. It read to me as a formal invitation, and it was indicated that it was indeed an invitation. I simply acted as the messenger.

DLB’s assistant responded a few days later saying that arrangements had been made and he would be able to show up. This was CCed directly to Dean Griffiths. I heard nothing more until the April 2nd board meeting where a new speaker was announced. If I appeared shocked, it’s because I was; the email that all of you had received detailing the “controversy” was never sent to me as it should have been. I met with Dr. Bell the next day. While that conversation was heated, I said several times that DLB had been invited and that this would be a disinvitation. There was no surprise indicated by Dr. Bell.

Now this issue has blown up, as I warned it would, privately, weeks ago. I have had no part in the explosion of this issue publicly, and I certainly did not act outside of my bounds to invite someone I shouldn’t have done. Rather, I acted at the direct instruction of the college with the college’s own template.

I am understandably concerned for my own reputation here, and cannot allow my name, my title or my actions to be used as the scapegoat for a decision that has caused the negative publicity that I said, many times, would occur. I would request that Dr. Fellow, and the Board, stop using my actions as directed by the college as an excuse for this situation. If the Board still feels I acted inappropriately, I would ask that we go through the ethics process outlined by Board policy and, if the Board feels it appropriate, conduct a discussion on censure of a board member in an open meeting. I stand by my assertion that I did absolutely nothing wrong, that I did not act independently when communicating with Black’s team, and that attempts to shift blame onto me are both wrong and disturbing.

It certainly is easy to blame a student leader who has very little backup from his colleagues, or his District administration. While I have often been in disagreement with the Board, or with administration, I have always acted with integrity and honesty. I certainly hope that this is recognized by my Board colleagues when considering this issue further.

I am currently away at the CCCT meeting as the student trustee representative to the League and continuing to represent what I believe the best of PACCD is. I however do welcome further emails or discussion on this topic, and if you wish to call please do so at [XXX-XXX-XXXX] (my temporary number while I’m in Sacramento.)


Simon Fraser

Student Trustee

Pasadena Area Community College District<> | (626) 585-[XXXX]

19 Replies to “Student Trustee: ‘District is attempting to scapegoat me’”

  1. This is the 21st Century and Board members are afraid of a few naked photos. Or is it that thy involve two people of the same gender? I wonder. smh

  2. Wow, you can smell the homophobia a mile away from Hamilton and some others. You’re more pathetic than you accuse Fraser and Black for being. People like you will be looked upon just like the anti-black folks from the Civil Rights era. The rest of us will move on into the 21st century. Buh-bye.

  3. @ Hamilton – Way to get all your right wing homophobia out in a couple of posts. Show us where Obama donated money to prop 8. Also gay activists had nothing to do with Eich resigning. Get your facts straight before you shoot your arrogant mouth off.

  4. This is another case of ineffective management at our school. Another “oops, my bad!” from Vice President Bell without ever clarifying the reasons, and basically no one running the place.

    I’m sure it’s just the Fellows/Martin/Rocha trio that made this decision. The “porno” professor isn’ t gay, so they are acting right in line of their ultra-conservative ways; however, if this were a hetero-male with this unfortunate blip in HIS background, I’m sure the Board would overlook it in favor of his successes and not bat an eye.

    1. This is just the latest in a string of “oops, my bad!” moments from Bell. How many more major screw-ups is he allowed before he gets fired for gross incompetence?

  5. I highly doubt “the board” is responsible for throwing you under the bus. It’s Fellows and Rocha. Call for a vote and my bet is you will get support from Selvidge, Mann, Wah and Brown.

    Also, you do yourself no favors by constantly drawing attention to “queer” issues. Do you represent all students or just a “queer” subset? Then, in keeping with the perception you are only interested in “queer” issues and “queer” students you magicalky are involved in first suggesting and then attempting to facilitate just one single commencement speaker who, like you, is involved in queer activism.

    BLD asks if he were hetero would the same thing have happened. The answer is yes.

    Your queer activism got the better of you. Stop crying about it.

    1. I have so far advocated for women, undocumented students, transfer students directly with universities after the cancellation of winter intersession, students with disabilities through facilitating on-site DSPS assessment with the SAFI grant, nursing students who need better facilities at the CEC to be able to succeed in their classes, student workers who shouldn’t have to pay for their own background checks enforced because of a change in policy targeted at administrators, and yes, queer students and issues on campus. It’s just the queer issues seem to be more controversial, and get more attention than everything else I’ve done at PCC.

      Possibly because people don’t want them drawn attention to. I also made no mention of those “issues” in my open letter. If you don’t feel that I’ve done an equal job of representing the LGBT and heterosexual communities equally, then that is something I should address. Please feel free to stop by my office in the coming week and I’m happy to discuss this, and any other issue you may have, further.

      1. LGBT students like you are a tiny minority and you seem pretty determined to bring as much attention to their issues (and yourself) as possible.

        Is it just a coincidence that the only speaker you recommended, advocated for and tried to facilitate was a gay man like you? Is it possible your passion for gay issue advocacy clouded your judgement and you engaged in some wishful thinking with the hilariously named gay assistant “Neville”. It’s like a gay comedy full of overly dramatic gay men some of whom posed for naked photos that found their way to the Internet. By the way, the porn photos of Black were clearly posed for and in no way were they secretly taken as Black falsely claims.

        How much thought and effort did you put into obtaining a commencement speaker who wasn’t a white gay male like you? ZERO.

        I will be very glad to see you leave office and hope that no organization in the future trusts you to be fair and unbiased because you very obviously are not.

      2. Thiis is all part of gay male vengeance politics where gay men take their suppressed narcissitc rage and direct it at anyone who doesn’t treat them like a king and bake them a cake.

        Gay political activists like you recently ruined the career of one of the greatest software programmers alive for the crime of agreeing with obama about gay marriage in 2008.

        Any company would be a fool to let you inside where you would no doubt cause the same type of histrionic emotional chaos you are trying to cause here.

      3. Hamilton, have you even read any of the articles that you’re responding to? Black’s not claiming that the photos were taken without his knowledge or that was not a willing participant in them. He’s claiming that the photos were distributed without his knowledge. Those are two very different things. The former isn’t the argument here; the latter has already been proven in a court of law.

      4. Dustin Lance Black gave a 3rd party physical control over photos of Dustin Lance Black voluntarily posing naked, looking into the camera while flaunting his erection and having sex with a man.

        Basically, Dustin Lance Black is or at least was an impulsive fool. He is a gay man who wrote a movie about a gay man. Big deal. Can we have an Asian man as a commencement speaker who went to PCC and established a company and employed people and worked hard to support his family? How about a Latina who serve her country in Iraq?

        Instead its over the top drama from a 39 year old flamboyant gay man with his 19 year old twink boyfriend and a student trustee misusing his position to aggressively press the gay political agenda

        The point here is that DLB is an attention seeking distraction when this is supposed to be about the students.

        It was grossly inappropriate for Simon Fraser to pursue his personal man-crush by trying to foist this distraction on everybody.

        What we really need to know is what type of relationship exists between Simon Fraser and Dustin Lance Black’s employee Neville Kiser (who just happens to live a few blocks from PCC).

      5. You who should be honored? Someone who has served others.

        I don’t think a gay man who has served only: a) himself; and b) other gay men; is worthy of honor.

        If Dustin Lance Black truly cared about others he wouldn’t be smearing their college during graduation time just because college officials think his porn pictures (which he volunteered to pose for and allowed a 3rd party to control) are potentially distracting. Oh look the drama queen has created a distraction anyawy! Any press is good press for a one-hit wonder.

        And if our gay student trustee Simon Fraser cared about anything other than his own gay activism and pursuing his man-crushes he wouldn’t be doing this either.

  6. Way to make it all about you. You reached out, DLB confirmed, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t another level of official confirmation that needed to take place. It’s like asking if someone is available and interested in something. That query simultaneously goes out to other candidates, you know. You need further confirmation to lock in the final candidate.

      1. Simon, while you may indeed suffer from “very little backup from [your] colleagues, or [the] District administration,” I am confident that you have the overwhelming support and admiration of the faculty and involved students at PCC. Keep speaking honestly and your reputation will only be enhanced.

  7. Why am I nor surprised that the Board would blame the student trustee. Rather than hold The VP or president of the school accountable for not clearly communicating or for being involved in the matter. and the board going around the student trustee and not even including him in the emails when it certainly pertained to him… This is what life is like at Pcc with 95 administrators.

    PCC COMMUNITY, we need your help! These are your tax $ running the school. Pasadena voters are the ones really in charge!

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