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Gratitude for service to country, community Peter Watry | Sun, Jul 10 2011 12:00 PM

Nick Aguilar is a local boy, graduating from Sweetwater High School in 1965. A good student, he continued his education at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and later earned a law degree.

Meanwhile, he served in an airborne division in Vietnam combat. He is a Purple Heart veteran and still carries pieces of shrapnel in his shoulder.

He eventually had a career as an attorney for his alma mater, UCSD.

But meanwhile, his service to his community and to his country did not end when he left the Army.

In 1983 he was appointed to the Sweetwater Union High School District Governing Board. (Don’t we wish he was still there!) For nine years he helped to lead the school district of his youth.

Then in 1992 he won a seat on the San Diego County Board of Education. Now his influence had a positive impact on an even larger scale.

He served 16 years on the County Board of Education, and could easily have won yet another term on that board.

But trouble was brewing at Southwestern College (SWC) in Chula Vista. A new president, Raj Chopra, and his vicepresident, Nicholas Alioto, were taking SWC down a deteriorating path. With a dictatorial style of management, Chopra and Alioto were alienating the faculty, putting more stress on buildings rather than students and engaging in questionable financial transactions.

Given this deteriorating situation at SWC, in 2008 Nick gave up his “safe” seat on the county board and ran against one of the incumbents allowing this rot to take place at SWC. Nick won. I had the honor of swearing him in to his new position. I did not realize at the time how great that honor would seem in time.

Nick was now on a board that just accepted everything and anything that Chopra did or proposed. Nick objected, asked tough questions and often voted no, but to no avail.

How did the board respond?

An attorney who was at times consulted on one issue or another, was now asked to come to every meeting, and to control Nick somehow. Many of us have witnessed times when Nick started to speak or ask an embarrassing question, the attorney would interrupt him with one reason or another why he could not say what he wanted to say. The attorney never interrupted the other board members.

When that did not always work, the board also brought in a Parliamentarian to rule Nick out of order as much as possible.

As the situation continued to deteriorate, Nick never backed down nor quit asking embarrassing questions nor failed to point out why the policies they were adopting were wrong. Pretty soon, reporters noted what was going on and the situation became more and more of a public concern.

In 2010, three of the donothing board members were up for re-election. A massive effort was made to defeat them, and two of the efforts were successful, and the third one barely failed to oust the third offending board member. But now, Nick had two new board members sharing his concerns. Chopra and Alioto saw the writing on the wall, and resigned. A new interim president was appointed.

As one of the original 20 teachers at SWC in 1961, I am pleased to report that SWC is again back on a positive path. Once more, Southwestern College is a proud part of our community.

But the wounds of that long ago war that still ravage his body, and the stress of two years of being pounded by Chopra and Alioto and the other board members, have taken their toll, and now Nick has had to resign for the sake of his health.

Nick Aguilar is a genuine hero in so many ways — “local boy makes good” is a gross understatement! Nick resigned from the SWC board effective June 30.

On July 1, The Star-News had the following news item: “Southwestern College Removed from probation... The district was taken off probation and elevated to full accreditation status.”

Thanks, Nick.

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