N.Y. college editors and adviser quit due to bad blood with student government

NEW YORK — Harassing phone calls, vandalism to her carand a death threat all contributed to the resignation of Rachida Essadiq fromher position as editor in chief at the Onondaga Community College studentnewspaper, The Overview, last month.Essadiq said the harassmentwas probably a reaction to her push for more hard news reporting in TheOverview, especially coverage of the Syracuse college’sindependently incorporated student government, the Onondaga Student ServicesAssociation. Last fall’s coverage included an article about OSSA treasurerJennifer Sutliff, who was charged with two felonies for stealing five guns andabout $700 worth of jewelry from her father’s home.In November,Essadiq found her car vandalized with the windshield cracked and thedriver’s side scratched with a key. Campus police and the local sheriffinvestigated the incident, but did not find the perpetrator. Essadiq said she issure the incident is tied to the student government.Then, OSSAparliamentarian Casey Sutliff allegedly exposed his genitals to the sportseditor in the Overview office. Essadiq said that Sutliff, who isJennifer’s brother, also threatened to bring a gun to school and killOverview staffers.Essadiq resigned in a letter published in theJan. 28 issue of The Overview.“It just became absolutelyimpossible to produce something productive and try maintain a level head,”Essadiq said, “I just felt like we were trying to do the right things andno matter what we were trying to do these people [the student government] werejust kicking us.”Kevin Althouse, executive director of OSSA,confirmed the allegations against Casey Sutliff and said that he was suspendedby the college.“Rashida’s concerns were absolutelylegitimate,” Althouse said, “but I don’t think this issystemic. This is one person not OSSA.”Essadiq’s resignationwas accompanied by the resignations of the managing editor and business manager.Adviser Laurel Saiz also resigned in a letter to the vice president of studentservices. On top of the harassment, the former staffers and adviser claimedstudent government authority over The Overview contributed to theirresignations.The Overview is published once every three weeks andis funded primarily through student activity fees. These fees, which totalnearly $530,000, are controlled and distributed by the student government, whichhas eight elected student board members. Only 73 of the college’s 7,269full-time students voted in the last election. Saiz said TheOverview received $18,000, just 3 percent of the student government’stotal budget, to pay for printing and to give small stipends to editors. Theeditors said The Overview needed additional funding to buy new computerequipment. Saiz said all budget requests by the newspaper, as well as anychanges in governance policies and procedures must be approved by the studentgovernment. Last semester Saiz made a recommendation to the studentgovernment service review board that students applying for the editor in chiefand managing editor positions should be required to submit a portfolio of pastwork and demonstrate aptitude in journalism. The service review board struckdown the recommendation.Essadiq said some student government boardmembers are bitter because in the past the majority of the newspaper’sstaff was student government officers, not journalism students. HillaryRobinson-Lovell, OSSA student president, agreed that relations between TheOverview and some student government members “were not exactly asdelightful as they could have been.” However, Robinson-Lovell said shethought that the newspaper’s coverage of the student government was fair.“It wasn’t like they were mudslinging. It was news and theywrote the facts,” she said.Essadiq and former managing editor KrisVenne were elected under a recommendation from the adviser that journalismstudents be given preference for top editing positions.Essadiq and Vennerecruited more than 20 reporters, upped the page count from 12 to 24 pages andadded color to the cover. The additions were funded through a newly generatedincrease in advertising revenue.“We were trying to make a realnewspaper,” Essadiq said, “We were trying to separate ourselves fromthe student government.”Saiz and the editors even drafted aproposal requesting the student government to guarantee The Overview aset funding level each year, but they said nothing had happened with theproposal. Kevin Althouse, who was hired as OSSA director this schoolyear, said he agrees that The Overview needs a set funding allocation.Althouse has a master’s degree in journalism and is acting as interimadviser to The Overview. He said he is looking at ways to make TheOverview more independent than the 22 other clubs and service organizations.One plan he advocates is allocating 30 percent of the student government budgetfor the paper, equal to the $159,000 that is automatically allocated toathletics. “In effect, we just sign their checks,” Althousesaid.Saiz said she would return as adviser to the paper if an advisoryboard, separate from the student government, were established to oversee thenewspaper. She said the board should include a representative from the localSyracuse newspapers, the Syracuse Press Club, an administrator and a broad crosssection of both students and faculty. But for now, she is standingfirm.In her letter of resignation Saiz said, “I cannot in goodconscience encourage my students to work in an environment where they will bethe least bit uneasy, embarrassed or unsafe.”OSSA PresidentRobinson-Lovell said until these proposals are worked out, the studentgovernment will retain the right to oversee the newspaper and its funding.“Someone needs to be there overseeing the paper and keeping themaccountable to make sure the facts are straight, making sure the paper is thequality that it should be and that students are receiving something worth thestudent activity money,” Robinson-Lovell said.The new staff,headed by former romance columnist Barbie Haggett, will publish its second issueon March 16. Haggett said she intends to continue to cover the studentgovernment just as the staff would cover any other campusorganization.“I’m going to report on it because it’smy job,” Haggett said. “The students need to know what’s goingon with their student government.”