Tensions flare at Brooks Institute of Photography

Students band together in search of answers

By Stacey Wiebe 01/25/2007

Miscommunication appears to be the word of the week at the Ventura campus of the Brooks Institute of Photography, where a series of incidents prompted students from the school’s visual journalism department to join forces to get answers to some tough questions.

Some of those answers were delivered Jan. 18, when Brooks President Greg Strick met with about a dozen students, many from the visual journalism department, who wanted to know why faculty members departed or were seemingly dismissed. “We are aware of our students’ concerns and we appreciate them,” Strick said Tuesday. “This pointed out how highly our students regard faculty — as do we.”

Strick declined to comment on specifics concerning personnel matters, including whether or not instructors from the private institution had been dismissed, and if one of the institution’s department heads has been placed on administrative leave — a theory that has been circulated by students, but has not been confirmed by official representatives for Brooks. “We moved quickly to address their concerns,” Strick said of the meeting. “The thing that they have to understand is that we’re absolutely committed to working on the issues … What is most important to us and to our students is the value that we place on faculty.”

Strick went on to say that the school’s top-notch faculty is a draw to students who attend the school, and that those students tend to bond intensely with their instructors.

Lucas Deming, who attends Brooks, said students began to mobilize when the school’s current session started last week. He added that the unrest had been brewing. Tensions came to a head, he said, when students returned from the winter break to find that some of their favorite instructors were gone — including student favorite Rick Ray, who declined comment.

The meeting with Strick successfully put students at ease, said Deming, who, along with a group of fellow students, decided that building a student Web site and creating a student government would be the best way to stymie the spread of inaccurate information. The students were told that a handful of administrators were “let go” due to budget constraints and that many of the missing faculty would be back. According to Deming — and information published on the student Web site — Ray’s contract was also renewed, but the statement was not confirmed by Strick.

Formed last week, the Web site, bipsc.org, named for the new Brooks Institute of Photography Student Coalition, details school-related information submitted by its news writers, including Deming. “Everybody’s ready to protest when they hear things that aren’t true,” Deming said. “It’s the best way to prevent rumors and hearsay.”

Brooks student Brenda Manookin believes that much of the tension between students and faculty and the school’s administration is due to a lack of communication.

“It seems like the students are trying to improve things and part of the administration isn’t really going for it,” said Manookin, who will owe about $130,000 in debt when she graduates in a year. “If you pay a lot of money, you expect a lot in return. For the most part, Brooks has met my expectations — and beyond … but I don’t think students should have to worry about the issues between the administration and faculty. This has all come up because we’re concerned about losing our teachers. There is a lot of miscommunication — and a disconnect.”

With a routine visit from the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, the agency that evaluates and provides accreditation for the school in the works later this week, students, faculty and administration have one thing in mind: making Brooks the best it can be.

“A lot of good has come from this,” Deming said. “We all want Brooks to succeed.”

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