The Board of Trustees apologized to Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black in a prepared statement released Monday and said that an email received by Black inviting him to be the school’s commencement speaker resulted from “an honest error.”
Senior Vice President Robert Bell took responsibility for what the district described as miscommunications that led to the controversy.
“Due to errors in following procedure for which I am responsible…we have embarrassed our esteemed alumnus Dustin Lance Black because of an invitation that was mistakenly delivered to his representative, and we owe the public an apology for involving Pasadena City College in a confusing situation that has unfortunately spilled over into public comment on homophobia,” Bell said, according to the statement.
Black posted on his Facebook early Tuesday, saying he was unsatisfied with the district statement.
“It took the @LAtimes mere hours to see through PCC’s dishonest, disingenuous statement. I can’t imagine it will take PCC students, professors or a court of law much longer,” his post reads. “Mr. [Fellow], in a courtroom, evidence matters, not spin. There, you must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. This is as polite a final warning as I can offer now. Get honest, apologize to your students and school and make amends.”
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 of him with a man having unprotected sex which surfaced on the internet in 2009 and he was dismissed as a candidate because the Board thought his actions might inflame the college’s own sex scandals.
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.
Board President Anthony Fellow went on to say in the statement that Black did not deserve this controversy. He said that the Board members were unanimous and clear in their position that details of Black’s personal life had no place in public discussion, especially if Black had been the victim of recrimination and revenge.
However, in an email to Associated Students President Jordyn Orozco, Fellow gave other reasons that might have gone into the decision making.
“Black some years ago participated in unsafe sexual practices that have now gone public,” Fellow said in an email to Associated Students President Jordyn Orozco in early April. “A public figure needs to set an example for our young people.”
The college’s prepared statement, which was posted to the college’s website Monday evening, contained an unusual “additional questions and answers” section in which the district provided answers to two questions it posed of itself. In it, the district said that statements in emails about Black were never intended to be publicized.
“What you have are pieces of personal conversations assumed to be confidential and never meant to be a final conclusion,” the statement reads.
But Fellow made similar comments about Black’s sexual history in an interview with the Courier last week, when he said the board did not select Black because they didn’t “want to give PCC a bad name.”
Student Trustee Simon Fraser said that the District was attempting to “rewrite history” with its statement. He also said that Black should have been this year’s commencement speaker.
The statement did not address the email templates that were put together by Heba Griffiths, interim associate dean of student life. Fraser was asked by Griffiths, a new member of the commencement committee, to email Black what she perceived to be an invite to check the availability of the four potential candidates she was charged with, using the template she had provided.
“We would like to formally invite you to conduct the commencement address to the students as we celebrate our theme of “Proud Past/Global Future,” the template reads.
Fraser’s email only changed the word “you” to “Mr. Black” in his email, and mentioned the email was sent on behalf of Griffiths.
“I did what I was told to do. I did nothing wrong,” Fraser said. “The email is very obvious that this was meant to be a formal invitation, not an invitation to check availability.”
All eight of the speaker candidates received this email and “were inadvertently “invited” due to miscommunication about what the email should state, according to the district’s statement.
“The record shows that all eight speakers on the approved list were ‘invited’ in this way,” the statement reads. “For this reason, the Board of Trustees will soon revise its Commencement speaker policy and procedures to make explicit that only the college president is authorized to contact proposed speakers.”
Bell said that he did not know about the email that was sent to Black until last week.
“There were too many cooks in the kitchen,” Bell said. “We had an offer extended … which was premature.”