An open letter from Roger Boesche

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(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 leastthe 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.

Roger Boesche
Professor of Politics

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for posting this letter. It is so good to see faculty stick up for members of the Oxy community. It brought tears to me eyes to read about Joe’s getting fired, and Dennis Johnson as well. What is going on at my wonderful college in Eagle Rock? Very disappointed in this administration.

  2. Thank you for posting this letter. Joe was my dad for the 3 1/2 years I spent at Oxy. I say that because he always introduced me to others as “my son, Luis” and I always saw him as nothing less than a father. I attribute so much of who I am to the guidance, love, and support of men like Joe. Of the years I spent as a student and Campus Safety employee I knew a handful of truths: Joe would never raise his voice at you, Joe would never lie to you, and Joe never got mad, and if he did he’d never show it. It makes me sick to my stomach that such a good man would be treated so poorly. I am now a firefighter, husband, and proud father of two. Joe, I hope I made you proud because I sure as hell am proud you and who you are. Thank you for your service, guidance, and love.

    Luis de la Cruz ’02

  3. Administration: Please set an example for the students by living the values you claim to be (and get fame for) teaching us. You are NOT showing the current students how to properly function in society as a better person Mr. Chang.

    It is not good business practice and higher level thinking to just swoop in and take over a department like that. It’s the kind of thing that people always talk about and criticize, yet you guys are doing it. If this was a startup company, you might have killed the startup.

  4. Cheers Roger! You have always been a hero to me and this letter only confirms what I learned 30 years ago, a good man like you will not stand down where there is injustice, even to his own detriment.

    And to Mr. Chang, get over yourself already.
    Best regards,
    Patrick

  5. I know Joe only as “Cunje!”. The exclamation point is always included even though I’m probably too old to talk that way. I’ve yelped it out since my first week on campus whether he was giving me a ride or busting a party that had gotten a little out of hand. Like most normal teens and 20-somethings I pushed boundries, made mistakes, and at times got a little wild. Yet no matter the circumstances Cunje’s manner was exactly what you hope for in an authority figure; nuanced, fair, calm, and just. We respected him because he respected us.

    I love Occidental. I started my business in the Oxy library and SAE house. I built my business to serve Oxy students. After almost ten years I still end up on campus a handful of times each semester and without a doubt the best times are when I run into “Cunje!” He may not say it, but I can tell that he’s proud of us, proud that a couple of guys he had to rein in at times are succeeding, are using their Oxy degrees to build a growing business that started just a mile from the school. That’s the kind of officer you want looking after your students. That’s the kind of officer who can make a difference at a school trying to find its way again. That, tragically, is the kind of officer this Occidental administration fires.

    Robert Wicklund ’05
    Owner
    Spitz

  6. Great letter. I hope Joe gets put on Long Term Disability. He deserves it.

    With love and peace

    Miguel Ali – formerly Ali Hasan 2004

  7. It is indeed very sad to hear of such utter disregard for all the good work that Mr Cunje had done for the school….an organization, that
    sadly is governed by the dollar amount….an organization that has LOST ALL CREDIBILITY AND INTEGRITY….I am glad no one in my family is there….as the deterioration in morals and integrity is not only painful to watch…but very saddening….we will try to bring the message to the outside world so that NO ONE WILL EVER STEP INTO ITS BLEMISHED PORTALS anymore….and for Mr Chang: how does it feel biting more than you can chew????

  8. Professor,

    I’m saddened to hear about what’s happening to Joe. When I went to Occidental, I remember a college that lived by adherence to values, not avoidance of rule-breaking. This sounds like the former. Oxy, I hope that you’ll regain the luster you once had.

    Chris Gagne ’03

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