I’m writing this for my personal blog. As of yesterday, I am no longer an employee of the Central Circuit and Seattle Central College.
While this gives me some more freedom, it also limits my blast range – the Circuit’s content creation cycle technically ended a couple of weeks ago, actually, after the press date of our June issue. I don’t know how firm this restriction is, but I’m holding to it for better or worse.
Part of my duty at the Circuit was to leave a legacy report for my staff adviser and next year’s staff, to assess my learning and growth over the course of the year and help the new graphic designer get a head start on some of the issues they’ll face in creating a professional, quality publication in a hostile environment. At first I put this off because there were other things to do—finals to take, recruitment posters to design—and then I put it off because I honestly had no idea where to even start. Do I talk about the quirks of InDesign? Do I talk about the three different times I resumed smoking while working under press deadlines and not having slept more than six collective hours in the previous three days? Do I talk about how incredibly proud I am of the work my colleagues and I did, creating a publication that is not only viable, but award-noticed? (And just wait until our later issues become eligible for consideration!)
And then I remembered that we did leave a legacy, a very concrete legacy. I’m going to employ one of my favorite writing templates: the timeline. Read to the end – I promise, there’s a payoff.
September 2013: The new staff of the Central Circuit meets to plan our first issue, and immediately decides that it needs to be substantive. The previous year’s staff was beset with internal conflict and a lack of experience (which we will not prove immune to), and the magazine that they created was not in line with our ideas of what student journalism has the potential to accomplish. With a skeleton crew, we create our November issue, which is a finalist in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards for both “Best Student Magazine” and “Non-Fiction Magazine Article.”
November 2013: Our editor in chief, Casey Jaywork, reports in our December issue that Seattle Central’s Student Leadership is going to be paying its employees for the mandatory week-long training we underwent in September. This is awesome. This is rad. This is student journalism.
Board advisers are instructed to take the back pay out of their existing budgets. The Circuit loses its entire training budget – we can no longer solicit training from professional journalists.
(As an aside: Casey and I were able to schedule an interview with the Dean of Student Leadership, Lexie Evans, regarding the allocation of Student Leadership’s yearly contingency fund and larger reserve fund. In that meeting, she told us that our adviser would have been able to petition those funds to make up the new shortfall in the budget. While this is the writer in me talking now, not the journalist, the impression I got from this interaction was that Lexie was telling us our adviser had failed us. When I asked our adviser about this, close to the end of the Spring quarter, she furiously informed me that she had asked about the option of using the contingency or reserve funds – twice. The first of these times was in the meeting where advisers were informed they had to reallocate their budgets; she told me that Lexie Evans said that the advisers needed to learn how to handle budgeting issues that come up. The second was in a private meeting with Evans. Both were declined.)
March-April 2014: Ah, March. The Circuit publishes “Unaccountable oversight,” about the untimely demise of our journalistic predecessor, the City Collegian. New staff members, definitely read this. Other readers, please read this too. The takeaway:
The second option is that students, staff and faculty organize to demand a student publication that is properly insulated from administrative control. The faculty and staff unions can lead this, as can the ASC and other Student Leaders if they are willing to take the risk. We need to make one demand: that president Killpatrick replace Evans as PubBoard chair with a neutral faculty member (i.e. someone acceptable to both the staff of the Circuit and to Student Leadership). It needs to be faculty because they’re better insulated from administrative influence than, well, administrators. This one reform might seem insufficient, but the PubBoard is the mechanism by which other policy decisions about student journalism are mediated. If we can get a neutral party as PubBoard chair, other reforms—like a reasonable ratio between credit requirements and paid hours, or hiring Circuit staff based on specific journalistic qualifications rather than generic Student Leadership qualifications—will have a chance to receive a fair hearing.
A petition is designed and posted. As Casey will write in our June issue:
Faculty, individually and as a union, have voiced their support of the article and its recommended reforms. The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley called the article “piercing” and “careful (and coolly mournful).” In response to the article, the Pacific Northwest Association of Journalism Educators, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center have all offered their support to the Circuit, and legendary free speech advocate Mary Beth Tinker has expressed approval of the article
An interview Casey and I have with Lexie Evans (after the issue hits stands) leaves me with the impression that perhaps there is nothing sinister happening here. Her explanation for the delay in hiring a new adviser for the publication is that she had other things on her plate. I empathize with that. I can understand why, after the newspaper has been such a source of conflict in the past, she might not have been eager to reinstate it right away. I don’t agree with this, but nevertheless I wonder if we are as a staff combating administrative apathy rather than an active attempt to silence student press. My thoughts trigger an existential crisis in the staff.
May-June, 2014: At Seattle Central, all of our student press has to go through the Director of Marketing and Communications, David Sandler. I mean all of it. On May 1st, managing editor Diana Gener and I have an interview with Sandler to address what feels like administrative stonewalling on the part of the school, and he states that we are being treated like any other journalist would, that he does not at all filter or control the information we receive from him, and that this policy is not unusual to our campus. The conversation is quite pleasant and goes into Sandler’s own experiences as a student journalist with the Daily Tar Heel. (I have a recording of this interview, if anyone wants to listen to it. I say “um” and “er” a lot and I am somewhat sorry.)
(Sandler cites occasions wherein administrators and faculty were not made aware that their interviews would be made public, and one occasion in particular when apparently a reporter for the renegade online paper New City Collegian printed material from a source who denied providing it. I tend to think that these are problems that a) will arise in any publication that solicits submissions from untrained students who are frequently writing for unaffiliated classes and b) could easily be eradicated with the institution of journalistic training for interested students. But that’s my take.)
The fact remains that we are effectively incapable of obtaining information from administrative sources without it coming through David Sandler. This is, in principle, concerning. I embark on an attempt to corroborate his statement about the policy being unremarkable and am unable to do so – out of the 13 Washington State community college publications I reach out to, only two replied to me. One has a staff of three, and no campus Public Information Officer; the editor in chief of the Whatcom Community College Horizon describes exactly the environment we’d love:
So basically I choose all of the stories, and while I get lots of story ideas from our PIO, we do not request any information or interviews to her unless it is information that we are not sure where else to find it. There is no real policy about what information we request from her (that I am aware of anyways). I find most of our school administrators and teachers very open to providing us with information or interviews.
Circuit campus news and opinion editor Josh Kelety is able to confirm with a friend of his at the UW Daily that the University of Washington has no similar policy in place (it has been remarkably hard to get the Daily to respond to journalistic inquiries). However, a sample size of three does not an argument make. I am hopeful that future staff will be able to continue the investigation, but until then, readers should know what it is they’re getting, and that it’s not because we’re lazy.
June 16, 2014: Our final issue hits the stands. It includes an editorial by Casey Jaywork about the response we’ve received from Student Leadership to our hope that the PubBoard will be redesigned. It contains such key phrases as, “members of the ASC [Associated Student Council] are less interested in facts or accountability than with preserving relationships” and “Whether next year’s student leaders are able to break out of this ideological echo-chamber remains to be seen.” I stand fully behind everything he says here, having been present at two of the ASC meetings at which he attempted to call attention to the problems with the PubBoard.
June 17, 2014: The Central Circuit’s staff adviser, Shae Savoy, is notified by Lexie Evans, that, against precedent, she is being laid off for the month of July. No mention is made of her returning to work in August.
June 19, 2014: A campus-wide email is sent by school President Paul Killpatrick, announcing the composition of the Publications Board:
Publications Board: This board is responsible for overseeing student publications and will meet once per quarter starting Fall Quarter. Members will develop appropriate guidelines to govern journalistic, editorial and advertising practices in order to promote free and responsible discussion of campus and community issues.
• Lexie Evans, dean of Student Development (administrator), will serve as chair
• Jim Hubert, full-time faculty, BITCA
• Lisa Bothell, part-time faculty, BITCA
• Harriett Wasserman, associate dean and director of Information Technology Services (administrator)
• Dana Maestas, Instructional Support Classroom Tech, Science & Math (classified)
• One student selected by Student Leadership
• One student selected to serve at-large
Additionally, David Sandler, director of Communications and Marketing/PIO will serve as an ex-officio member.
PLEASE NOTE: Lexie Evans is still the chair. BITCA refers to “Business; Information Technology; Creative Arts,” but those creative arts are web design commercial photography and graphic design. None of the faculty listed here are in the English Department, or even the Humanities. One of them has gone on public email record, during our initial push with the petition, as supporting Lexie Evans’ leadership. The staff adviser to the Central Circuit is notably excluded from the Board’s composition, as is its editor in chief.
This is not a neutral group of people.
Staff adviser Shae Savoy responds to this announcement a little more than three hours later with a campus-wide email of her own, entitled “Questions and Concerns Regarding the Publications Board”:
Dear President Killpatrick,
While I am glad to see that the Publications Board has been selected and individuals have stepped forward to serve on the Board, I have concerns and questions about a few things:
1. Historically, the Advisor to the student publication has served on the Publications Board. I do not see this reflected in the list of members. Could this be an oversight?
2. Also historically, the Editor in Chief of the Central Circuit has served on this Board. It is unclear from this list whether the single “student selected by Student Leadership” is that person. I ask because in addition to the Editor in Chief of the student publication, the Associated Student Council’s Executive of Communications has also served on the Board, simultaneously. This would mean two students who are officially under the aegis of Student Leadership, not one.
3. As for faculty members who will serve on the Board, I am glad to see BITCA well-represented, especially as the Central Circuit has been churning out ever-more-sophisticated digital design and photographic presentation. I am dismayed to see that for a writing-heavy publication, there are no faculty members representing the humanities, particularly from the disciplines of literature and journalism. Is this due to lack of interested parties?
Given that the Publications Board is designed to guide and counsel the college’s student publication, it concerns me that the student publication itself might be underrepresented and unable to self-advocate.
Thanks in advance for clearing up these questions and concerns.
Student Website and Publications Advisor
(Central Circuit Advisor)
(A June 20 reply to Shae from a Student Leadership employee asks, “You pushed them to act, and this is what they did. If you would have consulted your colleagues prior to letting this happen, we have told you to expect this.What do you think will happen if you keep pushing them?” as if we should live in fear of some massive curtailing of our press freedom, or perhaps public maulings.)
Shae is contacted, not by President Killpatrick, but by David Sandler, with whom she conducts a telephone conversation a few days later. She described her frustrations in another open letter to President Killpatrick, sent in a campus-wide email on June 23. It’s long, and I am excerpting below. Emphasis is hers:
It is deeply concerning that you, according to Mr. Sandler, have decided to explicitly exclude all representatives from the Central Circuit, the official student publication of Seattle Central, from participation on the Board, contrary to historical precedent. Mr. Sandler clarified that the vaguely referenced “student appointed by Student Leadership,” in your memo last week, will be the Associated Student Council’s Executive of Communications (a member of the student government) and that you determined that it is “not possible to fulfill the WAC” if representatives from the Central Circuit (Advisor and student staff) serve on the Board. I wonder what possible interference or obstacles you expect, or fear, from the presence of Central Circuit representatives. What goals or intentions could their participation possibly thwart? In conversation, Mr. Sandler returned again and again to the language of the Board having “general authority” over the student publication, taken from the WAC (quoted in full below). There was no mention of other aspects of the WAC, such as the explicit prohibition of censorship.
In justifying this explicit exclusion, Mr. Sandler repeatedly compared the Publications Board to the Board of Trustees of the Seattle Colleges. But I find this an ill comparison, as the primary responsibility of the Board of Trustees is “to meet the changing educational needs of the community while reflecting the community’s values in fulfilling the college mission.” However, if this were in fact an apt comparison, I fail to see how the Publications Board could succeed in “reflecting the community’s values” if the Central Circuit’s Advisor and student staff are silenced, and are effectively locked out of the decision-making process in establishing governing guidelines for the publication. There is an echo of “taxation without representation” here.
As to the glaring absence of Humanities faculty, and the strange over-representation from the BITCA division, Mr. Sandler, when asked directly whether any Humanities faculty had expressed interest in serving on the Board, could not recall. However, when pressed, he was able to confirm that “of those who expressed interest, the president chose who he thought would be the best fit for the Board.” If faculty members from the Humanities (especially from the disciplines of literature, creative writing and journalism) did in fact express interest, I simply cannot see how their unique and absolutely applicable experience and perspective could fail to warrant your approval as to their fitness to serve on the Publications Board.
And finally, I find it deeply troubling that Mr. Sandler, speaking for you, justified this radical restructuring of the Publications Board by referring to how “Casey Jaywork illuminated” structural weaknesses in the former Publications Board, which warranted a fresh look at said structure. What Casey [this year’s Editor in Chief of the Central Circuit] and the rest of the Central Circuit student staff were pressing for—specifically: that you appoint a neutral faculty member as Chair in order to insure “a student publication that is properly insulated from administrative control” (Central Circuit, April 2014)—could not be further from the resulting radical changes you have made. Frankly, I cannot help but see this as a punitive measure…
June 25, 2014: Shae (finally) gets a second email from Lexie Evans. It says that Lexie has received Shae’s unemployment paperwork, and that Shae’s employment will end that day. It does not answer Shae’s direct question about whether she’ll still have a job in August, and as of now, Shae still doesn’t know.
July 1, 2014: Shae’s Seattle Central email address shuts down, and she cannot access all-campus mailing lists or archived messages. Effectively, both the former and future staff of the Circuit are in the dark about any discussion or debate regarding their fate.
So there you have it. We fought the good fight. We have made some progress: next year’s staff will receive journalistic training instead of the traditional leadership orientation, and at least now all the PubBoard minutes will be kept on file (and probably etched into stone). But the composition of the PubBoard itself and the policy regarding student journalists and the Director of Marketing and Communications are deeply troubling, as is the fact that interoffice politics seem to cloud the school’s ability to serve its students.
You students of Seattle Central deserve better than a publication gutted by administrative paranoia, and a leadership devoted more to its own promotion than to yours. You deserve something that makes you think, something that probes and asks and, you know, has journalism in it. But barring that, you deserve to know why the student publication that you pay for may have its wings clipped. You need to know where you get your news and how you get your news.
So hopefully, you’ll join us in the fight to protect the news.
But this isn’t just about freedom of student press. It’s about a school actively seeking to silence its own students. That hope I had that perhaps the administration just didn’t care? I was wrong. For whatever reason, they don’t want an operable investigative publication on their campus. That right there makes a powerful statement.
And so this is my personal legacy: an uphill battle against a powerful force. Casey’s written on it more eloquently than I could, so I’m not going to try. Instead, I am going to add my voice to his, and state that it is your personal responsibility to fight for what you believe in. Maybe not in a huge way, maybe not every day, but you have to do something. And my sincere belief is that here I’ve given you enough evidence to believe in us. Fight for the Central Circuit, and for the community that cannot truly be removed from the school. Fight for press freedom, and an accountable administration. Fight for your right to be educated as thinking citizens, and not just future workers.
Because none of that is getting handed to you. And apparently, Seattle Central doesn’t want you to have it.
Update: It’s official. Shae has been removed as adviser. The letter she received from Lexie, dated July 1, states that they “will be happy to send” her the revised job requirements, which “plac[e] added emphasis, among other things, on Journalism training and experience.”
I’m not sure what else they will be placing on Journalism training and experience; perhaps a stylish hat. But cattiness aside, this is nothing less than a direct attack on Shae, who by her own admission is no journalist. She’s a poet – her degree is in creative writing, her experience is in creative writing, and her purpose as an adviser is to…advise us. Not set our content guidelines, not determine the angle we take on stories, simply advise us. Which she did, and well.
The SPLC has covered the circumstances of Shae’s termination here, and I’m hoping that this momentum can be pushed into other areas. If you have any ideas of how we can push back, please let me know.