Published in the June ’14 Circuit.
by Casey Jaywork | Editor in Chief
If you repeat the same statement over and over again, eventually it will become true. Or so seem to believe key members of Student Leadership.
Two months ago the Circuit published an expose on the administrative termination of Seattle Central’s former student newspaper, the City Collegian. The expose described how the Collegian, which had printed for four decades and won numerous awards, was apparently harassed by the Publications Board (an administrative body which supervises student publications) through a series of secret meetings chaired by the college’s Director of Public Relations during the 2007-08 school years. After the Collegian‘s advisor resigned in protest at the end of that school year, Student Leadership (an entity whose primary function is to provide institutional support to student press and other Boards) failed to hire a new new advisor and prevented the Collegian‘s staff from resuming their work in ’08-’09. The Collegian died.
These are the facts, exhaustively documented in “Unaccountable Oversight.” Since the publication of that article, other Circuit staff and I have attempted to work with members of Student Leadership, the Associated Student Council (ASC), and President Killpatrick to ensure that the kind of indirect censorship which killed the Collegian cannot happen again. We’ve specifically asked that the Publications Board be chaired by someone who has no other authority over student publications, in order to prevent concentration of power over student press. As it happens, the current chair of the Publications Board is the head of Student Leadership, Dean Lexie Evans: the same person who advises the committee which determines the Circuit‘s budget, who directly supervises the Circuit‘s advisor (and, through her, the hiring process for the entire Circuit staff), and who was ultimately responsible for the Collegian’s failure to resume in 2008 (a fact which she did not deny in interview). To be clear: we have not asked for any kind of disciplinary action against Evans, nor any admission of guilt from any of the administrators or staff who appear to have been responsible for the Collegian’s demise. We just want a student press that is insulated from future interference.
President Killpatrick’s response to our request was mixed. While he has refused to remove Evans as chair of the Publications Board, he has guaranteed that future Publications Board meetings will be public and publicly recorded, and that future membership of the Publications Board will not be dominated by administrators. (A larger problem is the fact that student press is funded solely funded by students, yet ultimately accountable to administrators. This, however, is the fault of state lawmakers, not the college administration.) The President is currently accepting applications for the Publications Board from all members of the Seattle Central community. Update 6/22/14: President Killpatrick announced next year’s Publications Board immediately following publication of the June issue of the Circuit. Next year’s Publications Board is more heavily dominated by administrators than the one which precipitated the demise of the Collegian, and appears to have no representation from the Central Circuit whatsoever.
The response to “Unaccountable Oversight” by Student Leadership advisors and by members of ASC has been less promising. Sam Chesneau—advisor to the College Activities Board (CAB), who sat on the ’07-’08 Publications Board and who made several demonstrably false statements when interviewed about the Collegian’s demise—has simply stopped responding to the Circuit, going so far as to refuse to write an introduction to last month’s CAB-sponsored Unity Fair feature. (Incidentally, former editor in chief-elect JK Howell has identified Chesneau as the person who prevented him from collecting key documents from the Collegian office during summer ’08.) Dean Evans, on the other hand, has been willing to be interviewed by the Circuit, but has also refused to even read “Unaccountable Oversight” because, she says, she sees no sense in dredging up old unpleasantness. Her explanation for why she did not even begin looking for a new advisor (via Craigslist.org) until eight months after the previous advisor’s resignation is that she was busy with other projects.
But the really discouraging response has come from the ASC. Student Leadership Project Coordinator Max Schuman, who works with the ASC, has repeatedly insisted that the one and only reason for the Collegian’s demise was the resignation of its advisor, Jeb Wyman, at the end of the ’07-’08 school year. Why was the advisor responsible for finding his own replacement? How could one man’s resignation single-handedly destroy a forty-year-old institution? Why didn’t Evans and others in Student Leadership hire a temporary advisor to keep the Collegian afloat? Why do multiple, independent sources confirm a general perception that the Collegian was on its way out, no matter what? In person and via email, Schuman has not provided any kind of answer to these questions – nor, indeed, given any indication that he hears them. He has simply repeated, over and over again, the assertion that its advisor’s resignation (somehow) guaranteed the end of the Collegian. Schuman: “Hypothetically yes, any number of admins could shut down the paper in round about ways. But also hypothetically the school could burn down, or be blown up by alien invaders. Speculation and hypothetical threats to me do not warrant serious concern.”
Members of the ASC appear to have agreed with him – at least, to the extent that they’ve paid any attention to the Circuit‘s concerns. My staff and I have spent the better part of spring quarter trying to get the ASC involved in protecting student press from future interference. Most of this struggle has consisted of trying to get the ASC to schedule a meeting to hear our concerns, and to get them to actually read “Unaccountable Oversight.” (The faculty union, by contrast, voted to endorse our petition for an independent Publications Board chair after hearing a five-minute summary of the facts.)
During the course of these attempts at engagement, it became more and more clear that, like Schuman, members of the ASC are less interested in facts or accountability than with preserving relationships. One ASC executive told me early on that it would be “inappropriate” for the ASC to take a position on protection of student press; when asked why, they replied that it would be “unethical.” (What, then, does the ASC do?) Another executive, after ostensibly reviewing the evidence presented in “Unaccountable Oversight,” said that they saw “no problem” with the history of student press at Seattle Central. Ultimately, the ASC declined to take any kind of meaningful action on the issue, aside from asking President Killpatrick to do what he is already doing.
By contrast, people outside Student Leadership’s sphere of influence have expressed little skepticism toward the allegations made in “Unaccountable Oversight.” 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. We should ask ourselves why the only people denying Seattle Central’s student press problem are the very people who are incentivized to do so.
The unaccountable termination of the City Collegian by college administrators is a fact, but facts don’t seem to hold much value within the pseudo-family of Student Leadership. Relationships and procedure, rather than accountability and accessibility, are what matters there. It’s important to note that this does not appear to be how members of Student Leadership or the ASC view their work. My own impression is that they’re not so much willfully deceptive as they’re just blinded by ideology, stuck—like deniers of climate change or vaccination—within a narrative framework that does not allow them to seriously consider the Circuit‘s allegations.
Whether next year’s student leaders are able to break out of this ideological echo-chamber remains to be seen. Let’s hope that they can, and that Student Leadership and student government can become legitimate, substantive avenues of student democracy at Seattle Central.