What started as security scares at Golden West College ended up taking down its president.



[STEPHANIE] How did a potential campus safety threat at Golden West College turn into a story about failed leadership?

[COLIN] We’ve brought in our reporters who covered the story to figure out how everything went down.

[STEPHANIE] I’m Stephanie Morales.

[COLIN] And I’m Colin Sweeney…… and this is Scuttlebutt from Coast Report, the student voice of Orange Coast College.


[COLIN] So Stephanie, the first inkling we had that anything was going on at Golden West was from you, who overheard conversations on campus before coming to the Coast Report newsroom on Monday, March 20

[STEPHANIE] That’s right. It was the week before spring break and I heard a few people talking about some classes at Golden West being moved online, but we didn’t know why. When we gathered in the newsroom that morning, we knew we had to get a story out about it, but had no idea what it would turn into. We decided that since you’re Multimedia editor, you would be the logical person to send over to take some photos and talk to people on campus about what was going on.

[COLIN] When I was on my way over, I received a call from one of our reporters telling me not to go on campus because they were in an active shooter lockdown.

[STEPHANIE] I remember that well. We found out from social media that a suspect who had previously shown a gun to two students had returned and that the entire campus was on lockdown.

[COLIN] For more on what went down, we bring in the person who covered this breaking story in the moment, Coast Report’s News Editor Kate Meyers to tell us more. Welcome, Kate.

[MEYERS] Thank you.

[STEPHANIE] So tell us exactly what happened.

[MEYERS] Well, at first we had no idea what was going on. We tried to have a normal story budget meeting but that was pretty much impossible in the rush of breaking news. Our Editor in Chief Kate Bent and I stepped out of our meeting and started making phone calls to anyone we could reach at Golden West and the district.

[COLIN] Can you talk about the time element to this?

[MEYERS] Well we knew we had to get a story out as quickly as possible. There are many students who attend both OCC and Golden West and we felt we had an obligation to them to deliver information that could potentially save lives if a shooting was taking place. It doesn’t get more real than this in journalism.

[STEPHANIE] As a reporter, that’s a pretty heavy burden. What does that feel like?

[MEYERS] It’s a complicated mix of emotions. On one hand, you’re worried for people’s safety and are a little bit scared, but on the other hand, you kinda live for moments like this as a journalist. It’s quite the adrenaline rush cause you have to be fast, but you have to be accurate.

[COLIN] What happened next?

[MEYERS] It was pretty much over almost as soon as it started. Less than 30 minutes after the initial Instagram post announcing the lockdown, students received a message on their phones that the lockdown had been lifted. School officials then posted on Instagram that classes were canceled for the rest of the day.

[STEPHANIE] Colin, where were you in all of this?

[COLIN] Obviously I didn’t want to be on campus if a shooter was there, but as soon as I found out that the threat had passed, the journalist side of me took over. I knew we had to get pictures to go with our story.

[STEPHANIE] What was campus like?

[COLIN] It was a ghost town. Literally no one was there. The only sign of life I saw was a campus safety cruiser outside the student services center. It was almost surreal…like something out of a movie. Normally a college campus is bustling with life so it was weird to see it without a soul there.

[STEPHANIE] But wait, I heard about classes being moved online BEFORE the lockdown. What was going on there?

[MEYERS] Turns out that the suspect with the gun wasn’t the only recent security threat at Golden West. A few weeks earlier, several employees received sexually explicit emails from a former student and a man named Jaguar LAY, a former student assistant who worked in counseling. The emails appeared to target LAY's former coworkers.

[COLIN] Jeez, that sounds even worse than getting all those political fundraising emails.

[MEYERS] Yeah it was pretty scary – especially since the emails contained personal information probably obtained from LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.

[STEPHANIE] Okay. so what happened next?

[MEYERS] Well, the school filed a cease and desist order against LAY but it was unable to be delivered. Then at the beginning of March, LAY reappeared on campus. After that, the district was granted a temporary restraining order against LAY banning him from all district properties.

[COLIN] So are the emails and the lockdown related?

[MEYERS] No. Two completely separate incidents, but they did highlight growing safety concerns at Golden West by faculty and staff.


[MEYERS] On the Friday before the lockdown, there was a town hall where several people were very emotional while talking about how receiving the emails had affected them.

[COLIN] Ok, let me get this straight. Friday was the townhall. Just two days later, on Sunday, classes were moved online – and then on Monday there was this incident that resulted in the lockdown?

[MEYERS] That’s right.

[COLIN] Wow! What a crazy few days for Golden West.

[MEYERS] Absolutely. We began asking questions and quickly realized that this was something more than a public safety incident…….this was a crisis in leadership.

[COLIN] Thank you for your reporting on this, Kate.

[MEYERS] Thank you for having me.

========SEGMENT ONE ENDS===== ===SEGMENT 2==

[STEPHANIE] When the public safety threat calmed down at Golden West, that’s when we – the newspaper at its sister college, Orange Coast – started hearing from faculty.

[COLIN] Yeah, through our reporting on the lockdown, we had indicators that faculty and staff were NOT happy about how Golden West President Tim McGrath had handled both security incidents and that something big was going to happen at the Academic Senate meeting the day after the lockdown.

[STEPHANIE] What’s an Academic Senate?

[COLIN] It’s basically an organization of faculty and staff that makes recommendations regarding academic and professional matters. We have one here at OCC too.

[STEPHANIE] For more on what happened at the meeting, we bring in the Coast Report journalists who were there – Reporter Anna Tran and Features Editor Liz Hanna. Welcome to you both.

[ANNA] Glad to be here.

[LIZ] Hey Stephanie and Colin.

[COLIN] So what was it like to be there? I can imagine that it was an emotional room.

[LIZ] At first, it was pretty quiet and tense.

[ANNA] I didn’t know what to expect because this was my first time covering something like this but it was very businesslike. Everyone who spoke during the public comments and the meeting was really prepared. So while people were definitely passionate, no one got out of control.

[STEPHANIE] What happened during the meeting?

[LIZ] Well, the point of the meeting was to discuss whether the Academic Senate still had faith in McGrath’s leadership.

[COLIN] Did they?

[ANNA] Most definitely not. They overwhelmingly issued a vote of no confidence.

[STEPHANIE] What exactly does that mean?

[LIZ] It’s primarily symbolic, but it means that they wanted McGrath out.

[COLIN] If it’s symbolic, then what does it achieve?

[ANNA] It was really to send a message to the Board of Trustees at the district level that the situation had become unmanageable and couldn’t be handled in house at Golden West.

[STEPHANIE] Why does the Board of Trustees matter?

[LIZ] They make all the hiring and firing decisions. Plus they control ALOT of funding.

[ANNA] This vote of no confidence was especially important because it aligned with the Coast Federation of Educators, which is the district’s faculty union… breaking with McGrath.

[LIZ] The union did a survey and 50 percent of faculty responded. That response rate is unheard of. Normally, that many people do not take time out of their busy schedules to respond to surveys.

[COLIN] I certainly don’t…What did this survey reveal?

[ANNA] 70 percent said they were dissatisfied with McGrath’s leadership.

[STEPHANIE] So is it safe to say that people at Golden West wanted change?

[LIZ] Most definitely.

[COLIN] Ok. So what happened next?

[ANNA] From there, it was up to the Board of Trustees to act.

[LIZ] Politically, they had to…. The optics of doing nothing would not play well.

[STEPHANIE] Did they?

[ANNA] Yeah. I went to a special board meeting that Friday where McGrath was placed on temporary leave effective immediately. Additional counseling and security forces were brought in to provide support for the school.

[STEPHANIE] So, to clarify the timeline and recap… Monday was the lockdown… Tuesday was the vote of no confidence… and then on Friday, McGrath was placed on leave?

[ANNA] Correct.

[COLIN] And what did the timing of the board meeting on Friday suggest to you? Normally, nothing gets done on a Friday afternoon – especially the Friday before spring break.

[ANNA] I honestly think they were trying to draw as little attention to it as possible.

[STEPHANIE] Why do you think that is?

[ANNA] I mean, it’s not really a good look for the board that this guy they had hired was not fulfilling his leadership role.

[COLIN] Do you think the board succeeded in keeping this on the down low?

[ANNA] Most definitely not. The room was packed. Even Huntington Beach locals showed up to express concern.

[STEPHANIE] Was McGrath there?

[ANNA] Yup.

[STEPHANIE] Awkwaaaaaard.

[COLIN] What was his reaction to all this?

[ANNA] He was silent and appeared really uncomfortable and tired.

[COLIN] Not surprising. He had spent the entire week getting called out HARD.

[STEPHANIE] How did things end?

[ANNA] With the board saying that his leave would be reevaluated after spring break.

[STEPHANIE] And with that, we all went on spring break leaving McGrath's fate hanging in the balance.

[COLIN] Anna, Liz, thank you for your reporting on this.


[COLIN] We came back from spring break to a situation at Golden West College that was still very much up in the air.

[STEPHANIE] Just days before spring break, several specific classes were placed online at Golden West College after a former student and employee sent threatening emails. After a town hall about safety concerns on Friday, the following Monday, the college was placed on lockdown after a gun was apparently on campus. The next day, the Academic Senate voted no confidence for the college president, Tim McGrath and by Friday, the district had placed McGrath on temporary leave…and then…silence…the silence of spring break.

[COLIN] So what happened when spring break ended? For more on that, we’ll bring in Coast Report Editor in Chief Kate Bent who covered the story from the beginning. Welcome, Kate.

[BENT] Thank you for having me.

[STEPHANIE] So after McGrath was placed on leave, what did you think was going to happen?

[BENT] I honestly didn’t know. That week the story was developing at such a breakneck pace. It seemed like every day there was something new, but with spring break, everything came to a screeching halt. We wondered if this might slip into the spring break void that so often happens in academia, but I also knew from our reporting that there was alot of resentment that had been building up for years against McGrath. People were fired up and wanted change. Liz, Anna and I received an email from an anonymous source who wouldn’t go on record but told us there was more to this story than it intially seemed and gave us some direction about what we should investigate.

[COLIN] After spring break during the first week of April, there was a regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting. What happened there?

[BENT] McGrath resigned. I think he realized his goose was cooked and didn’t want to get fired.

[STEPHANIE] Do you think this was just because of the lockdown and the emails?

[BENT] Absolutely not. Sources told us that there had been problems since he was hired in 2018.

[COLIN] What kind of problems?

[BENT] A whole host of issues from creating a toxic work environment to a lack of communication to some serious mismanagement errors.

[STEPHANIE] Can you give us some examples?

[BENT] Sure… In 2020, he hired a childhood friend for $375,000 to run the school magazine.

[COLIN] Why was this an issue?

[BENT] Critics said that that was money that could have been spent on something that directly helped students, but there were also some questionable editorial decisions that were made like when the EPIC TImes – a far-right newspaper known for pushing conspiracy theories –paid to have an article published in the magazine.

There was also a provocative ad for cellulite removal that offended many women on campus who said that it pushed a harmful body image.

[STEPHANIE] That wasn't the only time women had an issue on campus during McGrath’s tenure.

[BENT] No, definitely not. Sources told us that McGrath was known for creating a toxic work environment where female managers were dismissed and not treated very well. And then there was the issue of the sexually explicit emails from Lay.

[COLIN] What happened there?

[BENT] A couple of things. When the emails were sent out to 21 people on campus, McGrath said it wasn’t a big deal because - quote –“nothing really happened” – unquote.... People felt that he didn’t understand that sexual aggressionaggression and violence primarily targets women and can often start with verbal or written threats. According to our sources he seemed to have a complete lack of understanding about how violated people felt when they received the emails. There were also said to be issues with communication when one of the suspects who had sent the emails, Jaguar LAY, appeared on campus. He was the former student assistant in the counseling department.

[STEPHANIE] What happened there?

[BENT] For starters, when LAY showed up, no one was notified. When a photo of him was sent out, it wasn’t sent to students who could have helped to identify him.

[COLIN] ThisT wasn’t the only time there were communication issues with McGrath, right?

[BENT] No. During the lockdown before spring break, professors were notifiednotified via email rather than text. The problem with that was that most of the instructors on campus at that time were in class and not checking their emails. Most found out from students – who saw it on Instagram.

[STEPHANIE] Why is that an issue?

[BENT] One of the problems is that Instagram isn’t accessible to all students, especially those with visual impairments. We were told that one student was unable to see the post because of his disability and was locked out of classrooms when he thought there was an active shooter on campus. Not only is that terrifyingterrifying, but represents a larger issue about a lack of communication from the administration. Thankfully, no one was hurt but had there been an actual active shooter, getting information out to everyone quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

Colin: This isn’t the first time there have been concerns about McGrath’s leadership style and communication, right?

Bent: Yes. When he was VIce President of Instruction at San Diego Mesa College in 2010, their Academic Senate also voted no confidence in him.

Stephanie: Wow. This seems to be a pattern of behavior with him.

Colin: Did the Board of Trustees know about this when they hired him?

Bent: According to my sources, they did. I definately believe giving people second chances but to me this raises alot of questions about how we select our leaders. How thorough is the board’s vetting process? Are candidates’ histories taken into account when hiring? Should there be more oversight of the Board of Trustees decisions? Who leads the school affects everyone on campus and this is a perfect example of how disasterously bad leadership can pan out. There were real issues of safety at play here. I feel that this should be a lesson to everyone about how important it is to be involved in campus governing bodies that are doing the decison making and oversight. None of this takes place in secret. These meetings are all open to the public.

Stephanie: But Kate, that all took place at another school and here at Coast Report, we are the student voice of Orange Coast College. Why did we cover events at a different campus?

Bent: For a number of reasons. First of all, a lot of OCC students, including several members of our staff, attend both schools so our students are affected by issues at Golden West. Secondly, GWC is our sister school. We both fall under the jurisdiction of the Coast Community College District. The same people who are making decisons for Golden West are also making decisons for us. Finally, their newspaper was closed in 2018 so no one else is reporting on these stories. I can’t help but wonder if things would have reached such a boiling point if they had had a newspaper to investigate and hold people accountable.

Colin: Ok so McGrath is out what happens next?

Bent: Acting president Meridith Randall will serve as interim president until a new president is hired which could take up to a year. Hopefully, the board will learn some lessons from this when selecting a new president.

Stephanie: Well that is one hell of a story. Thank you, Kate for being here and thank you to our other reporters Kate Meyers, Liz and Anna for all their excellent reporting.

Colin: That about wraps it up for us. Thank you listening to the second ever episode of Scuttlebutt which can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, Google, Amazon or wherever you get your podcasts.

Stephanie: And for the latest news on all things Orange Coast College, follow Coast Report at CoastReportOnline.com and on our social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok at CoastReport. Our theme music was created by OCC music student Bryan Dang. Scuttlebutt is a production of Coast Report, the student voice of Orange Coast College.

Colin: For Stephanie Morales, I’m Colin Sweeney and thank you for listeing to this episode of Scuttlebutt.

[COLIN] Are these two incidents the first time there have been complaints about McGrath’s communication issues?

[BENT] No. When he was Vice President of Instruction at San Diego Mesa College in 2010, their Academic Senate also issued a vote of no confidence in him citing his leadership style and a lack of communication.

[STEPHANIE] Wow. This seems to be a pattern of behavior with him. Did the Board know about this previous vote of no confidence in McGrath when they hired him?

[BENT] According to my sources, they did. To me, this raises some serious questions about how we select our leaders. How thoroughly does the Board vet its candidates? Do they and other districts disregard past votes of no confidence? Should there be more oversight of the Board? The problems at Golden West are a prime example of how bad leadership can affect everyone on a campus. I think this could serve as a powerful lesson of how important it is to be involved with campus governing bodies who are making these kinds of decisions and doing oversight. None of these meetings are secret. They are all open to the public.

[COLIN] How often has something like this happened in our district?

[BENT] According to my sources on the Board, this is the first time in 20 years that a college president has resigned following a vote of no confidence.

[STEPHANIE] Can you talk for a minute about why we chose to cover Golden West? We are the student newspaper at Orange Coast College. Why are we covering a different college?

[BENT] Sure. There are a couple of reasons. First of all, there are many OCC students, including several members of our staff, who also attend Golden West. Secondly, both schools fall under the jurisdiction of the Coast Community College District. That means that some of the same people are making decisions for both schools. And thirdly, Golden West’s newspaper was shut down in 2018. We can’t help but wonder if things would have come to such a boiling point if they had their own newspaper to investigate things and hold people accountable.

[COLIN] Certainly lots to think about there… Thanks Kate for being here.

[BENT] My pleasure.

[STEPHANIE] And that concludes this episode of Scuttlebutt. You can find this and upcoming episodes on Spotify, Apple Music, Google, Amazon or wherever you get your podcasts.

[COLIN] And for the latest news on all things Orange Coast College, follow Coast Report at CoastReportOnline.com and on our social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok at CoastReport. Our theme music was created by OCC music student Bryan Dang. Scuttlebutt is a production of Coast Report, the student voice of Orange Coast College.

[STEPHANIE] For Colin Sweeney, I’m Stephanie Morales and thank you for listening to this edition of Scuttlebutt.

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