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Thursday, August 21, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Conspiracy `Crackpots' Featured In Jfk Class

Los Angeles Times

A COLLEGE COURSE on the Kennedy assassination is drawing harsh criticism from faculty members and the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County, Calif.

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. - The South Orange County Community College District has approved a course that claims a conspiracy was behind the assassination of President Kennedy and has committed $5,000 for flying in four guest speakers, one of whom says the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, masterminded the killing.

The course, scheduled for Sept. 26-28 and advertised by district literature as a "high-quality community-education" offering, has angered some faculty members and others who say the board's decision subjects the college to ridicule and endorses the agendas of political extremists.

"All of this is out-and-out anti-Semitism," said Cheryl Altman, chairwoman of the department of reading at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, which, along with Irvine Valley Community College, is run by the district.

The Anti-Defamation League, which formally opposed the course at a trustees meeting Monday night, accuses one of the speakers, Washington author Michael Collins Piper, of being a proponent of Holocaust denial and labels his claim that Israelis killed Kennedy ridiculous.

Another speaker, Chicago author Sherman Skolnick, is, according to the ADL, a member of the advisory board of The Spotlight, which the organization called "the most anti-Semitic publication in America."

Steven Frogue, the president of the community-college district's seven-member board of trustees - who cast the tiebreaking vote to approve the course - will also teach the three-day seminar, albeit free of charge. Frogue said the $5,000 allocated to the speakers will come not from taxpayer money but solely from the $99 fees being charged the students who take the course. Frogue said no student will receive academic credit for the course.

Gerald Posner, the author of "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK," seemed aghast yesterday at the panel of speakers.

"The harm is setting this in an educational environment, where it has an official stamp of approval," Posner said. "This strikes me as being similar to the notion that the Holocaust was a hoax."

Chip Berlet, who has studied the assassination extensively and is a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a nonprofit think tank in Massachusetts that examines authoritarian thinking, laughed upon hearing the names of the panelists.

"Oh, get out of here!" Berlet said. "You couldn't find . . . more embarrassing conspiracists in America. Even among conspiracy theorists, these people represent the outer limits."

Some faculty members fear that the course will harm the reputation of the district.

"I am profoundly embarrassed that the president of our board of trustees is a man who takes seriously crackpots such as these," said Roy Bauer, a philosophy instructor at Irvine Valley Community College.

Last November, Frogue received a bigger endorsement than any other candidate in the district, garnering 128,361 votes in a re-election bid for a decisive 61 percent to 39 percent victory over his opponent.

Frogue did not return calls from the Los Angeles Times. But during an interview last fall, he called the Anti-Defamation League "a group of spies that actively keeps files on people . . . people like me," Frogue added, "I believe Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the ADL. That's right. . . . I believe the ADL was behind it."

At the trustees meeting, Frogue denied making the comment.

One of those who spoke in opposition Monday night was Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Orange County and Long Beach chapters of the ADL. Greenspan took exception to two of the speakers, Skolnick and Piper, saying they write for "extremist organizations" and, in the case of Piper, "the virulently racist and anti-Semitic newspaper," The Spotlight.

Earlier this week, faculty members lodged a protest with the school's attorney, contending that Frogue would violate state education guidelines by teaching a course while also sitting as the board president, and by voting to approve a course that he will teach.

Robert Lombardi, the district's chancellor, said yesterday he had checked with the district's counsel and the Orange County counsel, and neither saw a problem.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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