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June 28, 2022

End of the road for Gavilan mural

A controversy about a work of art that has shadowed Gavilan
College for eight months may have come to the end of its road.
A controversy about a work of art that has shadowed Gavilan College for eight months may have come to the end of its road.

Trustees took no action at their monthly meeting this week regarding placement of the “Enduring Wage” mural inside the campus’ main art lecture hall. The Board’s collective washing of its hands will allow the school’s mural program to re-hang the piece after an exhibit displaying the art work ends Friday.

“It’s perfectly appropriate,” said Lori Head, a student senator at Gavilan. “It’s still in a public place, but not a public place that people have to go to unless they’re enrolled in art classes. It has an educational purpose there.”

The “Enduring Wage” mural depicts, among less controversial things, upper class individuals sitting on toilets and defecating on huddled masses of poor and working class people. It was originally destined to permanently hang in the Student Center at Gavilan.

Trustees were expected to approve a process Tuesday for identifying an “appropriate” agency to purchase and display the mural, something the board supported during its session last month.

The school’s mural program, however, asked that the mural not be sold. During the course of the month, no agencies were approached to buy the mural.

“We’re not even looking for a player,” Interim President Martin Johnson told Trustees.

Gavilan estimated the mural’s value to be $2,500. It would have put the money into its Partnership for Excellence account.

Mural program students did not attend Tuesday’s session. In the past, Gavilan art instructor Arturo “R2Row” Rosette and his students have declined to comment on the mural, only commenting through written materials provided at the ongoing display of the mural in the school library.

According to Board documents, there was concern that selling the mural would not ensure it would be used for its originally intended purpose – to be placed in a public place.

Johnson also said the art department has wanted to improve the aesthetics of its main lecture hall.

“It’s a way of improving a lecture hall that has decor and colors from the ’70s,” said Johnson, explaining it will also provide opportunity for more discussion by art classes. Johnson was not clear if the mural would hang in perpetuity.

“Art has a way of getting recycled over time. It could go down for another display and then get put back up again,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

The umbrella intention behind the “Enduring Wage” mural was to portray the economic view of the minimum wage earner looking up the ladder of success, the school has said, but it managed to produce campus and community tensions nonetheless.

Head said the Associated Student Body did not want it hung in the Student Center after it was clear many students found the content offensive. In September, the Board approved a public art policy giving it the power to decide if the mural could be hung in the campus’ main student hangout.

The new policy was a slap in the face for the ASB, which has asserted the state education code gives students that decision-making power when it concerns a student-supported Student Center.

In other business, Trustees cemented last month’s unanimous decision to hire Steven Kinsella as the school’s next president by approving the contract the Morgan Hill resident signed Tuesday.

Although he was offered a three-year, $161,000 per year contract Oct. 30, Kinsella had not signed the document until Tuesday because of health benefit issues he and the college needed to resolve.

“I’ll have basically the same plan as I have at West Valley/Mission College. It all transfers over. That’s what my concern was,” Kinsella said.

Kinsella is currently interim president at Mission Community College in Santa Clara. He replaces Interim President Martin Johnson who was thanked by the Board for what was described as “a seamless transition” after Rose Marie Joyce, the former president, became president at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, near Los Angeles.

The Board’s decision came in a closed session that preceded the meeting.

Trustees and staff wasted no time letting Kinsella know about the issues he will need to face when he takes over Jan. 1.

Enrique Luna, president of the school’s Academic Senate, said the college’s grasp of what criteria will be used in future accreditations is getting muddier. Luna said the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a regional association that evaluates public and private schools in the United States, expects schools to have in place a measurable system, beyond grades, for evaluating student achievement.

“It’s part of the push for more accountability,” said Luna. “But the more we look into it and the more experts we talk to, the only thing that becomes clear is that it’s all getting more confusing.”

Luna said the good news was Gavilan, which was recently accredited, will not need to go through the process for another six years.

“Gavilan recently got accredited, but I don’t think we should be casual. It would behoove the board to develop a position,” Luna said.

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