Pasadena City College for Bernie (PCCFB), a student-run campus club without official affiliation to the Sanders campaign, has found an advisor halfway through the semester, after the previous advisor’s involvement was rejected by the Office of Student Life (OSL) citing her off-campus sabbatical.

Melissa Michelson, associate professor of languages and English as a second language (ESL), is the club’s former advisor. She was granted sabbatical beginning in Fall 2019 upon approval by the PCC Board of Trustees.

In an email exchange on Sept. 18, OSL Dean Rebecca Cobb informed Michelson of OSL’s purview and decision to reject Michelson’s continued involvement in the club.

“In your current leave status, you are not in a position in which you are authorized to act on behalf of the College in the role of advisor,” Cobb wrote. “I cannot approve you as an advisor.”

PCCFB’s online constitution describes three key provisions for their advisor in Article I, Section 5. 

First, the advisor “shall be full time” in all meetings with PCCFB and related committees (Clause 1). Second, the advisor is elected by a simple majority of the club, and can be removed by two-thirds of the club (Clause 2). Finally, within 10 days of removal of an advisor, a simple majority of the club can choose a replacement advisor (Clause 3).

Cobb’s Sept. 18 email stated that her office would help PCCFB “to secure another advisor or advisors.” However, according to Michelson, school officials did not respond timely to the club’s needs. Without the college’s assistance, Michelson found an approved advisor for the club. 

“PCC students should be the school’s top priority, and the students don’t deserve this kind of treatment from the college. They are getting the run around because the college administration isn’t allowing me to sign off on their paperwork and did not help them find a replacement advisor,” Michelson said. “Every level of the administration that I appealed to would deny the students access to a faculty advisor, without providing any written policy behind their decision, [which] is unacceptable.”

Michelson added that Cobb refused to allow her continuing status as an advisor because such voluntary work would be outside the capacity of her leave of absence, and there is no precedent for the situation. The college does not consider her current position on sabbatical as an agent of the college that can handle risk management, club budget oversight, and signatory on formal college documents. Cobb referenced these points in her Sept. 18 email.

“They can’t pull up any documentation for this; it does seem unfair. And there is already a lack of political clubs on campus,” said Pablo Garcia, PCCFB Vice President and Inter-club Council (ICC) representative.

David Cuatt, associate professor in Visual Arts and Media Studies (VAMS), agreed in October to sign off for the club’s documents as the new advisor.

Michelson also argued the school would not be paying her for more work or assignments since she is volunteering her time to advise the PCCFB students.

While on sabbatical, Michelson contractually receives 75 percent of her regular pay. She also argued that the theme of the club, social justice, could be related to the subject of her sabbatical.

Mariam Cuesta, PCCFB chair, has faced many obstacles in the first half of the semester. 

Obtaining funding was not possible without an authorized faculty advisor’s signature.

Freedom of speech was another, according to Cuesta.

The college denied activity requests for tabling on campus because Michelson could not sign as the advisor. Campus free speech zone policy allowed the club members to set up tables every Monday at 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., although not as an official campus club. 

Cobb’s Sept. 18 email also emphasized that all “commonly travelled” spaces on campus are free-speech zones.

“We do not currently have a Time, Place and Manner policy and procedure,” Cobb wrote.

Despite this, PCCFB’s concerns remained.

Advantages of club status include funding that can provide food and beverages for members during events, gaining access on campus to hold such events, and posting flyers across PCC to encourage student attendance. PCCFB has been unable to participate in these activities.

“I feel very frustrated,” said Cuesta. “What’s the purpose of having a club? The whole point of having a club is to take advantage of that club status.”

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