Over the last year, Jon Foote, 33, has been accused of inappropriate behavior… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)
As Jon Foote walked through the tidy grounds of Moorpark College, one student after another called out his name.
To one, he offered directions to a new classroom; to the next, suggestions on an essay about faith; to another, a high-five on a calculus test score. He is 33 years old, not so unusual at a community college — "my only chance," as he puts it, "at a second chance."
Foote arrived at Moorpark determined to show his gratitude by investing in campus life and the school's 14,500 students. He launched Foote's Books, a free, Craigslist-style website to save students money on textbooks, and arranged to bring hybrid and electric vehicles to campus for an exhibit.
When he ran for student body president in the spring of 2011, he seemed to be the only person surprised by his victory.
Foote's second chance, though, has nearly been his undoing. Over the last year, he has been accused of inappropriate behavior — and kicked out as student body president by the college administration. He and his supporters, including prominent faculty members, believe he was targeted because he questioned how the school spent its money.
"It's a public institution," said Robert Keil, chairman of Moorpark's chemistry program. "Yet knowing where your money goes is not always as obvious as it should be. Jon said that students need that information. He butted into an institutional parochialism: 'You're a student. Why don't you just shut up?'"
Administrators declined to comment.
Foote grew up in Camarillo and the San Fernando Valley. After earning his high school GED, he bounced from job to job, often clashing with co-workers.
"You have to deal with people around you, whether you like them or not," said his father, Robert Foote, an attorney in Ventura. "He was not very amenable to that."
Foote struggled in the recession. "The world thought I was a failure," he said. "And I was."
Community college, Foote said, was the one place he could start over. He enrolled at Moorpark in 2010. Passionate about the environment and technology, he is studying environmental engineering. He was a model student, several instructors said, with interests beyond the classroom.
"I have never seen a student as devoted to serving the needs of the student community as Jon Foote," Lori Clark, a professor of environmental science, wrote to the administration. "Jon is not a conventional student."
As student body president, Foote focused on Moorpark's budget at a time when California's community colleges were being decimated by cuts, with course offerings slashed by a quarter. Moorpark administrators were shutting the cafeteria and eliminating staff positions, and students were struggling to get into crowded classes.
"Politics disgust me," Foote said. "But I also don't believe in playing patty-cake when something is so clearly wrong."
Foote began to investigate the college's budget choices. Why did the school spend thousands of dollars to fly a small number of students to Washington, D.C., every year? Why had the pay for some student employees risen so quickly? What if entire athletic programs were eliminated and the savings funneled into academics?
"They are slicing courses left and right," Keil said. "We're firing instructors. If you're going to cut core English classes, should you really have a football team? Maybe the answer is 'yes' — but people can't even have an informed discussion."
Foote began clashing regularly with administrators, who he said refused to turn over detailed financial accounts.
The college has begun releasing some of that information to The Times in response to public records requests. The records show, for instance, that the Washington trip cost about $15,500 and indicate that wages paid to student workers in the student government office have nearly tripled since 2008, to more than $18,000.
Foote's standoff with administrators might have ended there — with Foote failing at budget reform. It did not.
One Tuesday last fall, not long after a heated discussion with administrators about spending, Foote went to an acquaintance's house for lunch and a beer. Returning to campus, he got into an altercation with an old friend who was incensed at being stranded while Foote used the car they often share.
Fearing the dispute could become physical, Foote called campus police. The officer who responded declared that Foote was drunk. Foote protested.
A professor sent a letter to Moorpark President Pam Eddinger. "Mere minutes prior to the incident in question, Mr. Foote was with me, going over complex calculus problems on a whiteboard," wrote Ron Wallingford, an astronomy and physics professor. "You can be sure that if he were under the influence of anything, I would have been aware of that fact."
Foote received a letter of reprimand anyway. Administrators also accused him of "willful disobedience."