(Released on Wednesday, Feb. 12 to the Occidental community.)
Friends and Colleagues,
Yesterday at approximately 5:40 p.m. I received an email informing me that the College Administration had fired Lieutenant Joseph Cunje as of February 28th of this year. Despite 30 years of wonderful service to this college, 20 years with a sparkling record as Head of Campus Safety along with Holly Nieto, no one in the Administration was kind enough or brave enough to tell him face to face. He received a letter. And despite the valid and real option of putting him on Long Term Disability, in which case he would get 60% of his salary and contributions to TIAA-CREF and health insurance, they chose to terminate him instead. They fired Joe.
Many of you know Joe, but some don’t. Some of my details below might be off slightly, because I never thought I would write a letter like this. I assumed I would tearfully toast him at his retirement party. Instead, they fired Joe.
Joe came to this country from Guyana more than 30 years ago with something like 34 cents in his pocket, landing on an uncle’s porch, somewhere like Pennsylvania or Ohio. He worked two, even three, jobs at a time until he came to Los Angeles and to Occidental, and he and his wife put two fine sons through Occidental College, a place they love and toward which they have deep gratitude. He rather quickly won the Sarah Gilman Award for Best Employee of the Year. But they fired Joe.
I love Joe like a brother; I came to know him well as one of the happy consequences of my rheumatoid arthritis. Over the last twenty years, I have had hundreds of rides with Joe from my house to campus and back, and I have learned that Joe is an extraordinary man. Very few people who call Campus Safety are rude. Not once did Joe have even the slightest irritation in his voice when an impolite student called; Joe handled every call in a polite and professional manner. Students always said hello to Joe because they loved him too. Joe put in hundreds of hours of overtime on weekends and at night, overtime for which he was rarely paid, because he wanted everyone on campus to be safe. He would stay late almost every Saturday night with his hand on the volume knob, keeping the volume down of music played at campus parties, so no neighbors would call LAPD. He loved students to have parties on campus, because then no one could hurt himself or herself or anyone else with drunk driving. Joe was devoted to the students, staff, faculty, and the administration. But they fired Joe.
I saw Joe become teary when an Occidental student died bicycling down Mt. Wilson; it happened miles from campus, but Joe was devastated. When a student was skateboarding without a helmet in back of the library and fell and hit his head on the asphalt, Joe and his officers and the paramedics rushed the student into the operating room in 20 minutes, saving his life. Joe and his officers were ecstatic, because they care so deeply about students and everyone else on campus. But they fired Joe.
How did this happen? No problems occurred when Mike Groener supervised Campus Safety, but he was relieved of his job, and the Administration passed the supervision of Campus Safety to the Dean of Students Office, in this case, to Tim Chang who is an expert on residence halls but not on law enforcement. Mr. Chang never consulted the officers or even talked with them about what they thought were good practices, but instead gave orders that Joe thought were unprofessional, unrealistic, and against good law enforcement procedures. Joe also was frustrated that he and his fellow officers were not allowed to help with Sexual Assault Cases. In December of 2012, at the annual Christmas Party with officers and their families, the families sat at one end of a long table, and Barbara Avery and Tim Chang were alone at the other end. When asked if she would like to say a few words, Ms. Avery declined; after the party, Mr. Chang wrote Joe up for being uncooperative. Then, sometime just over a year ago Joe and Mr. Chang had a quarrel with Joe expressing his frustration that Mr. Chang had no experience with law enforcement; Joe went home, unable to sleep, and had something like a stroke that impaired his vision in his right eye. He is to this day genuinely disabled. He was put on medical leave that generously lasted more than the usual six months, but now, instead of legitimately putting him on Long Term Disability, they fired Joe.
There is a poison in the atmosphere on this campus, and it does not emanate from the faculty. One can see it in the firings of Dennis Johnson, Michael Kerwin, and Ed Cunje. President Richard Gilman would not have fired Joe, President John Slaughter would certainly not have fired Joe, President Ted Mitchell would not have fired Joe, but this Administration fired Joe.
I hope we can vote at the next faculty meeting urging that Joe be put on Long Term Disability, and that we can vote no confidence, once again, in—at least—the Dean of Students Office. They fired Joe.
If you think this is an important email, please forward it. I am not sure that the computer will let me send it to staff, administrators, and students. Thank you.
Professor of Politics