James Defines Media Policyby Nick Stillman
It's amazing what one can discover at the bottom of a trash basket.
Custodians Scott Smith and Eugene Zsigray happened upon a memorandum sent from Director of Security Keith James to his staff last week that explicitly states James' desire for staff to direct all media inquiries to him instead of directly answering themselves. The April 10 memo states, "Safety and Security employee [sic] will not give any statement or information to the news media unless authorized to do so by the Director of Safety and Security or his/her designee."
Although James denied the connection, it seems plausible that the memo could represent his response to the April 7 issue of The Review, in which a letter from Senior Communications Officer Jane Macarthy appeared, detailing the "state of mistrust" in the Security department. Moreover, in the March 10 issue of The Review, anonymous Security officers criticized James' manner of managing a student who had become enraged over a parking ticket.
James denied any direct connection between the April 10 memo and internal criticism from security officers expressed in The Review. "The department has always had these policies," James said. "It's a matter of being professional and making good judgements, not a restriction on officers' fundamental rights."
Director of Human Resources Ruth Spencer justified James' decision to clarify Security's policy of having all contacts with the media pass through him. "It's my understanding that there was a similar policy with the previous Director [of Security] also," she said. "I think it creates difficult management situations when officers bombard the media."
Spencer also supported James' assertions that the explicit statement in the memo did not constitute an imposition on officers' rights to freely express themselves in a public forum. "He [James] is not trying to inhibit officers - communication with the media has to happen in a way that is appropriate. Complicated situations shouldn't be battled out on the front page."
Both Smith and Zsigray explicitly stated their desire to defend a security staff that they feel has been mistreated by James. "It's just in shambles," Zsigray said. "Workers under him can't express themselves." Moreover, both were convinced that James sent the memo in a defensive manner and as a response to a flurry of negative media regarding Security management in The Review. "To me, when James puts it in print that officers can't go to the media with a gripe, that's a dictatorship," Zsigray said.
Each custodian also said that officers had been calling in and not working as a means of protesting James' managing tactics. James, however, denied this flatly, saying he had no knowledge of this occurring within his department. "No one [in Security] knows anything about that," he said. "The staff shared with me the sentiment that they are diligently doing their work."
Macarthy adhered to the instructions James specified in the April 10 memo, asserting that media issues must pass through security union president Christine Groff.
Although the language of James' memo seems to state that security officers have no authority to speak to media about any issue at all, Spencer said, "Security can only control things involving Security operations." James concurred, saying, "Each individual has to identify what's appropriate and based in good judgement - it's a professional judgement."
Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
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