Seattle adviser removed from position believes decision was in retaliation for students' investigative work

WASHINGTON — An adviser was removed from her position last month at Seattle Central College in what she believes is a retaliatory response from administrators to investigative work published by the student-run magazine.

Shae Savoy, who has advised the Central Circuit since 2012, said that she was kept in the dark about the reasons for her removal, despite many attempts to communicate with her supervisor, Lexie Evans, the school’s dean of student development and the head of the college’s publications board, which oversees the magazine.

In mid-June, Evans emailed Savoy that she did not expect her to work at all in July because the Student & Activities funds only provide for 44 weeks of advising pay. Savoy followed up, asking whether she would continue in her position after July but did not get a response.

Last week, she received a letter from Evans apologizing for the lack of communication and explaining the school intended to advertise the adviser position for the fall. The letter said that Savoy could apply for the position if she wanted.

Although the manner in which she lost her position was unexpected, Savoy said the removal doesn’t come as a surprise. At the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, the Circuit staff decided that they wanted to do more news coverage, as opposed to the feature-heavy approach taken by earlier staffs, said Caitlin Sussman, who was a Circuit staff member last year.

Although Savoy didn’t have any journalism experience (her background is in creative writing), she supported the students and worked to get them outside training, Savoy said.

Circuit writers did multiple investigations throughout the year, some looking into campus or administrative issues, Savoy said.

“I supported them because my perception was that my job was to facilitate the student laboratory of journalism, to insulate them from outside tampering and to guide them in matters of ethics, accuracy and craft,” Savoy said.

However, Savoy said that she and administrators didn’t always see eye-to-eye on this perception of her role as adviser.

She said that Evans approached her during the school year to say that Savoy’s loyalties should be with the school and that Savoy should have informed her of the investigations that the Central Circuit was doing. Savoy said she had multiple similar conversations with Evans throughout the school year.

Evans did not respond to multiple phone calls and an email seeking comment about Savoy’s position. She did say in an interview that the college planned to post the advising job next month, and that they are looking for someone with more journalism experience.

In an email, Director of Communications David Sandler, who said he was responding on Evans’ behalf, said “there is no requirement for the advisor or anyone else to communicate content of any student publication in advance.”

The SCC administration has a history of disagreements with student media, most notably with the City Collegian, the school’s former student newspaper, said Casey Jaywork, the Circuit’s editor-in-chief last year.

In 2008, publication was put on hold after the Collegian adviser resigned in protest, alleging the college’s publication board was strong-arming the newspaper. Administrators said they were searching to replace the adviser, but one was never found and the paper ceased to exist, according to an article Jaywork published earlier this year on the controversy.

The school’s journalism program was also discontinued the same year after school officials cited low enrollment numbers.

In his article, Jaywork made various suggestions as to how the college could improve the environment for student media. One such suggestion was that SCC President Paul Killpatrick replace Evans as publications board chairwoman with someone more neutral, such as a faculty member, so as to avoid the potential for administrative influence.

Following the story, Jaywork also started an online petition with the same request to Killpatrick. The petition gathered a total of 116 signatures, according to the petition website.

Last month, Killpatrick announced changes to the makeup of the publications board, but the changes he proposed actually increased the Circuit staff’s anxiety, Sussman said.

The board hasn’t held regular meetings in the past year, but in years when it did meet, the Circuit adviser and editor-in-chief were included in the board, Savoy said. Under Killpatrick’s new proposal, they were not.

Evans did not select the new board but when asked about its make up she said that “usually governing boards wouldn’t include the people they are supposed to be overseeing.”

Savoy and the student editors say they are also concerned that the board doesn’t include faculty with a vested interest in journalism or writing, with most of the faculty members being from the Business, Information Technologies and Creative Arts Division, Sussman said.

“We’ve fought hard to make (the Circuit) more newsy,” Sussman said. “We’re afraid that there would be no advocates for good journalism on the new board.”

Additionally, they have concerns that Evans was again named chairwoman of the group. In a campus wide email sent in response to Jaywork’s story, Killpatrick stated that he did not find a reason to replace Evans as chairwoman.

“I have complete confidence in her ability to lead the Publications Board in a way that balances First Amendment issues with the requirements put in place by the Associated Student Council,” he said in the email. “The chair’s influence is not absolute; the Board is a collaborative body that works with the president to establish journalistic guidelines, and I believe the changes I’m implementing will further benefit student publications, and student journalism, at Seattle Central.”

Savoy said she thinks her removal is directly related to her defense of the students.

“I’m sure that if I had not made waves, I would still have my job,” Savoy said. “I know I can’t get my job back (now) … I don’t want to. I can’t work for someone who treats me like that.”

As for some of the Central Circuit staff members, the whole ordeal resembles what happened with the City Collegian, Sussman said.

“It very much looks like this is their way of forcing Shae out,” Sussman said.

Jaywork said that although what exactly will happen next year is unknown, he hopes the 2014-15 staff will continue with the news-heavy and investigative approach.

Contact Costa-Lima by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext 119.