Iowa community college newspaper under investigation — but not sure why

IOWA — Students and their adviser at The Calumet have found themselves in a defensive position this month, but they don’t know against what and they don’t know against whom.=”#calumet”>

Editor Molly Willson said LaDrina Wilson, Muscatine Community College’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action officer, contacted her and other staff members for information about an article The Calumet published last month.

The article voiced concerns from students and faculty about the objectivity of a “Student of the Month” competition. Muscatine’s Student Senate President, Loureen Sayej, won the competition in which her uncle, senate faculty adviser John Dabeet, was a judge. It was the second time this year that Sayej won the award.

Newspaper staff members say they assume either Sayej or Dabeet must have filed the complaint, but Willson said the EEO office won’t tell the staff anything.

“We can’t figure out why they won’t give us a copy of the complaint,” she said.

Wilson, the EEO officer, said she couldn’t divulge the nature of the complaint or even how her fact-finding process works, because that could impede the investigation.

“Those investigative records are confidential,” she said.

The Calumet adviser Jim Compton said he fears the investigation is really targeting him, since the EEO office typically mediates disputes involving staff and faculty, not students. Dabeet might think Compton had been “out to get him” because of a previous dispute that also involved Dabeet’s role in choosing the student competition winner, Compton said.

“That’s where this comes from, I think,” he said. “His (first) complaint didn’t stick because there wasn’t anything there.”

Dabeet couldn’t be reached for comment.

Wilson told Compton the complaint didn’t involve journalism or students, but that doesn’t explain why she was questioning reporters about an article, Compton said.

Spencer Ludman, who wrote the controversial article, said he has heard rumors that some people want Compton gone.

“I think it all comes back to politics,” Ludman said. “I’m sick of it. He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had here.”

Ludman said he was also contacted by Wilson, but he and the rest of the staff are refusing to give interviews to the EEO office until they know the charges against them.

“If somebody files criminal charges against me I have the right to know who did it,” so the same rule should apply on this smaller scale, Ludman said.

Willson, the paper’s editor, said Ludman’s article was “completely sound” journalistically.

“We knew it would be controversial … but that’s why we made sure the article was squeaky clean,” she said. “It didn’t target anybody wrongly or anything like that.”

A second reporter, Kenzie Failyer, said she also refused an interview with Wilson.

“I didn’t work on the article at all,” Failyer said. “We are still wondering why she contacted me.”

Compton is being represented by volunteer attorney Bryan K. Clark from the Chicago office of Lathrop & Gage LLP as part of the Student Press Law Center’s Attorney Referral Network, but Compton said they haven’t yet decided how to proceed.

Besides dealing with the investigation, The Calumet is considering filing a police report for the theft of hundreds of newspapers that were thrown away, Willson said.

“They were taken off the newsstands in at least three different buildings,” she said. “It just upset me that that amount of student work was getting thrown away.”

Compton said the paper spent around $450 to print another 500 papers. He said a Calumet staffer, who is dating Sayej, apologized for throwing away the papers.

“We do know it was because of the article,” Compton said.

This is the 11th newspaper theft reported to the Student Press Law Center in 2013, and the fifth in November alone. Last year, 27 thefts were reported.

By Samantha Sunne, SPLC staff writer. Contact Sunne by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.