After being placed atop a Board approved short list of potential commencement speakers earlier this semester, the college decided against selecting Oscar winning screenwriter and PCC alumnus Dustin Lance Black because they feared sexually explicit photos of Black that surfaced on the internet in 2009 would tarnish the school’s reputation, according to administrative officials.
Black was the first of eight potential candidates to make himself available as a speaker, but the Board of Trustees were made aware of nude pictures found on the internet of him with a man having unprotected sex and he was dismissed as a candidate because the board thought his actions might inflame the college’s own 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,” 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.”
The college recently went through two scandals involving professor Hugo Schwyzer, the “porno professor” who admitted to sleeping with students, and journalism instructor Warren Swil, who admitted to showing nude photos of himself to a student.
The administration decided to go forward and invite a safer pick: Pasadena Director of Public Health Dr. Eric Walsh, who accepted and is confirmed to be the commencement speaker, according to Robert Bell, a commencement committee member and vice president of academic affairs and student services.
The problem, however, is that Black accepted what appeared to be an official invitation to speak at commencement more than a month ago.
The letter, sent by Student Trustee Simon Fraser on behalf of Heba Griffiths, interim associate dean of student life, states:
“…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.”
According to Fraser, he was asked by Griffiths, a commencement committee member, to email Black the invitation using a template she provided.
Griffiths argued the email was not an official or final invitation for Black to be the commencement speaker.
“[Black] was the first to say he is available out of the eight potential speakers,” Griffiths said. “The administration did not confirm with him [to be the official speaker]. The confirmation was never made with the administration.”
Bell explained that a major miscommunication occurred with officially inviting commencement speakers because the policy does not clearly indicate who can or cannot invite a speaker. Also, too many people were involved in the process, he said.
“There were too many cooks in the kitchen,” Bell said. “We had an offer extended … which was premature.”
Bell officially informed Black’s assistant on Monday that he would not need to make arrangements to attend commencement.
“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,” the email reads.
Black said in an email to the Courier that he is considering taking legal action against the college, according to emails from his assistant Neville Kiser.
Black expressed his deep discontent with being disinvited by the college.
“The offer was made. I accepted the offer, booked flights, cancelled work to make room for the honor,” he wrote. “It is heartbreaking, hurtful and wrong headed.”
At an Associated Students meeting last week, Vice President for Sustainability Sarah Belknap denounced the way that the board was framing the situation. She felt that it was wrong for the board to compare what happened to Black to the situation with Schwyzer, whose sex scandal last year made national headlines. Black was a victim of a boyfriend seeking out revenge, while Schwyzer used his authority to have inappropriate relations with students.
“As a person who myself has been harassed and as a queer person, that really hits me right where I live,” said Belknap.
Fraser spoke out against the board’s disregard for Black, stating he found the board’s claim that the pictures depicted unprotected sex to be homophobic because it was not viewed as intimate contact between two adults but as a promotion of unsafe sexual practices.
“We are held to such a different standard where any single misstep is a bad thing,” said Fraser.
Fraser felt personally betrayed and said that his group of community college queer students had been maligned and desperately needed role models like Black to show them how a PCC student transformed himself into to a Oscar winning screenwriter.
“I can’t think of a better role model for any students, let alone queer students,” Fraser stated.
Staff writers Raymond Bernal and Jessica Arceo contributed to this report.