The Board of Trustees voted to apologize and re-invite Oscar-winning PCC alumnus Dustin Lance Black to be the Spring 2014 commencement speaker following a weeks-long controversy over the school’s decision not to choose him because they believed sexually explicit photos of him on the internet could tarnish the school’s reputation.
If Black decides to decline the invitation, there will be no speaker at this year’s commencement.
The board-approved apology included Black’s background as a distinguished alumnus.
“He has distinguished himself as a film producer and a champion of equal rights and protections for all regardless of sexual orientation,” it states. “The Board of Trustees and college administration deeply respect Mr. Black, his work and his causes. The Board also sincerely apologizes to Mr. Black for any actions that may have caused hurt.”
Black’s assistant, Neville Kiser, said in an email to the Courier Wednesday night that Black has not yet received a formal apology or new invitation from the board. He declined to comment until Black is officially notified.
After the board unanimously approved a proposal to re-invite Black, several board members denied ever voting to approve Pasadena Director of Public Health and pastor Eric Walsh, directly contradicting an April 21 statement from the district that claimed the board had voted to invite Walsh.
“The Board’s position to invite Dr. Walsh was voted on by the Board and stands as its final decision,” the April 21 statement posted to the school’s website reads.
Trustee Ross Selvidge said that he was never consulted on the District’s statement and its claims of a vote by the board to approve Walsh as a speaker.
“I don’t know what vote they are talking about,” Selvidge said. “I had nothing to do with that statement. I was not consulted on the content in it.”
Trustee William Thomson explained that he did not remember any vote to approve Walsh as a speaker.
“There was a consensus that if the other candidates could not make it, that we would move forward with Dr. Walsh,” Thomson said. “But I don’t remember if we voted on it. The record will show if we did.”
Other members of the board did not wish to comment on the supposed vote, and there is no record available showing that the vote took place.
Director of Public Relations Valerie Wardlaw said there would be no changes to the District statement released on April 21.
“We are not going to go back and revisit it,” she said.
President Mark Rocha would not comment on District statement, but explained that there was only the future to look forward to.
“I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can’t do anything about the past,” Rocha said in an interview. “This is not about the board or me. It is about the students. We are sincere in our apology to Mr. Black.”
After initially accepting an invitation to speak, Walsh pulled out following news reports of sermons he delivered that appear to bash transgender people and claimed evolution was “created by Satan.” Walsh said he had “an unforeseen scheduling conflict” that precluded him from speaking at commencement.
Other members of the board, however, came to defend Walsh and his views on creationism and his negative views of the LGBT community.
Trustee Jeanette Mann believed that Walsh’s Christian viewpoint should be left out of public conversation.
“He seems to be a conservative Christian I think we should respect that. I think what they said at church is not what they would say at commencement,” Mann said. “I think that we are going to be very, very careful and respect everyone.”
Thomson agreed that Walsh’s religious views should not mar his reputation. “I think it is unfortunate that criticism of his views should be brought to discussion here,” Thomson said. “I also wanted to make it real clear that the decisions initially had nothing to do with homophobia it had to do with a memorandum by Dr. Bell on April 2. That’s not something we ought to be criticized for.”
An email Rocha sent to the board hours before its April 2 meeting, which excluded Student Trustee Simon Fraser, said that none of the possible candidates for commencement speakers were available, except for one who “is a controversial figure.”
“I concur with Dr. Bell’s recommendation that we announce Dr. Walsh as our commencement speaker for the Commencement of the Class of 2014,” the email reads.
The problem is, however, that the “controversial figure,” Black, had nude photos of himself having unprotected sex with an ex-boyfriend surface on the Internet in 2009, and it became a critical matter that impacted the board’s decision.
“With the … sex scandals we’ve had on this campus this last year, it just wasn’t the time for Mr. Black,” Board President Anthony Fellow said. “We’ll be on the radio and on television. We just don’t want to give PCC a bad name.”
Fraser believed that apologizing and re-inviting Black was the right thing to do.
“I think this is the appropriate measure to take and I am very appreciative of that,” he said.
Trustee Linda Wah also agreed it was the right thing to do.
“I am proud that the board did the right thing,” Wah said. “I hope this allows us to heal the campus.”
~Additional reporting by Raymond Bernal