by Troy Worden

 

The president of Evergreen State College has apologized, more than a year after the fact, for the Washington state school’s use of taxpayer funds to bus students and educators to a workers’ rights protest at a family farm.

KGMI, a news-talk radio station in Bellingham, Washington, reported that the college also had “strongly reprimanded” six faculty members in connection with the incident.

Evergreen President George Bridges apologized to the group Save Family Farming in a conference call Aug. 30 with its executive director, Gerald Baron, and its communications director, Dillon Honcoop, according to a report on the Protect Farmworkers Now website, a project of the nonprofit advocacy group.

Bridges also apologized in a separate conference call the next day with state Reps. Vincent Buys and Luanne Van Werven, Baron told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.

KGMI reported that the Everson, Washington-based farm advocacy group filed a complaint against the public college in April after looking over photos and videos of college vehicles taking students to and from the protests in August 2017.

According to The College Fix, a conservative-leaning website that reports on campus news stories, the farm is more than three hours north of the college, about 170 miles away.

The Protect Farmworkers Now report notes:  “Six faculty members … inappropriately used college vans—state property—to lead students to participate in anti-farm protests at the [Sumas, Washington] blueberry farm in August 2017.”

Baron told The Daily Signal that while Bridges did not tell him directly whether the faculty facilitated the protests during their work hours, “I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is yes.” He said:

The protest participation was actually a part of class. The syllabi for the two classes involved in the protests stated that the students were going to talk to farmers and farm workers and get educated about farming, but that was not the case.

It was participation in a political activity, not an educational one.

Baron said Bridges, the college president, told him the students were given “an option to participate,” but added it’s not clear whether that was the case because the outings were organized as a group by two classes and six faculty members.

Baron said he was unable to discover from area farmers whether they met students on the scheduled outings.

Baron also told The Daily Signal that the two protests in August 2017 centered on the death of a Mexican farm worker at Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, with activists saying they were protesting for workers’ rights.

According to KGMI, the farm worker, Honesto Silva Ibarra, 28, was in the United States on an H2-A visa for temporary agricultural work.

KGMI also reported that a medical examiner and the state Department of Labor and Industries determined Ibarra’s death was the result of natural causes unrelated to his job, and cleared the farm of wrongdoing.

The department spoke with Ibarra’s co-workers and family, and found no health, safety, or wage violations.

However, the department fined the farm $150,000 for other violations, such as missed mealtimes and breaks.

At the time of Ibarra’s death, a spokesperson for the farm said the owners were “relieved and reassured that state investigators concluded what we have known all along—that Mr. Ibarra’s death, while tragic, was not the result of the company’s actions or policies,” KGMI reported.

The radio station reported that along with his apology, Bridges also said Evergreen State College “strongly reprimanded” the six faculty members for their actions.

Baron, the farm group’s executive director, told Fox News that his organization accepted Evergreen’s apology:

Although there are some remaining questions, we really appreciate President Bridges’ apology for this abusive use of taxpayer-funded resources and are encouraged that he has promised to work to keep it from happening again.

“I believe President Bridges is serious about changing Evergreen from an indoctrination institution into an educational institution,” Baron told The Daily Signal.

Honcoop said on the Protect Farmworkers Now website: “We very much appreciate the work the college administration did on this, and trust that this abuse of state resources will not happen again.”

“We are also encouraged that President Bridges seems committed to students and faculty hearing both sides of this important issue on farming,” he said.

A spokesman for the college did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Both sides suffered losses in the incident.

According to the Protect Farmworkers Now website, the farm says the protests hurt its reputation and caused employees to lose their jobs.

“Sumas farm opted not to hire guest workers this year following a year of protests and legal action by Community to Community and Columbia Legal Services [protest groups that picketed the farm],” the farm said in an Aug.  1 statement.

Evergreen State also sustained a significant drop in enrollment this year, which critics attribute to fallout from widely publicized social justice-themed events, among them a “Day of Absence” in May 2017, in which white people were asked to leave campus.

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Troy Worden is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.  The Daily Signal depends on the support of readers like you. Donate now.
Photos “Evergreen State College Campus” and “College President George Bridges” by evergreen.edu.