October 16, 2020

After disbanding a committee that was designed to investigate its president, the College Media Association’s executive committee on Friday voted 3-1 with one abstention against asking its president to resign.

Kenna Griffin, the president of CMA, had been advising students of NYU’s Washington Square News remotely from her home in Oklahoma on a part-time basis for six weeks, when on Sept. 28, students protested with an editorial and a mass walk-out.

The editorial included a list of grievances that accused her in a bullet-point list of espousing transphobic “rhetoric” and racial insensitivity, among other complaints.

CMA responded by saying it would launch an investigation, but earlier this week announced that it was ill-equipped to conduct such an investigation and backed off of its plans.

CMA is a professional organization made up largely of college newsroom advisers with an all-volunteer executive board. Griffin, a longtime journalism adviser and instructor, will presumably remain in her position until her term ends in October 2021. She remains employed by NYU.

She has previously stated that she would not be discussing this issue publicly.

Friday’s full statement, issued on behalf of CMA president-election Chris Whitney, is as follows:

The CMA board today voted against asking President Kenna Griffin to resign from office based on the allegations made by 43 New York University students who resigned their positions at the Washington Square News on Sept. 28.

While Griffin is the leader of our organization, this is essentially a matter between Griffin, her students and New York University. The board sincerely wanted to do its own independent investigation, which is why it formed a committee of advisers to interview witnesses and weigh the evidence. The committee was concerned, though, about a number of factors, including legal liability, and disbanded Monday.

As president-elect, I informed the four other board members Tuesday morning that I would abstain from any vote to remove Griffin or ask her to resign because any such vote would make me president, leaving me with a conflict of interest. The other board members sought out parties who could continue the investigation, but they were either unavailable or too expensive. One firm quoted a minimum price of $50,000, and even in that quote was a warning that CMA might not have standing to interview NYU students or employees.

After talking with the four board members individually Wednesday, there was no consensus to remove Griffin as president. Griffin talked Thursday with board members, and the group plans to continue discussing how we move forward. The board formally voted today on a motion whether to seek Griffin’s resignation. Three board members voted against it (Allison Bennett Dyche, Steven Chappell and Bryce McNeil), one voted for it (Tamara Zellars Buck) and I abstained.

We realize this is, in many ways, an imperfect resolution. Griffin steadfastly denies any allegations of racism and transphobia. She remains employed by NYU and has received support from several NYU administrators and journalism faculty members. Yet the former WSN student staff members continue to call for her resignation as adviser. Our organization aims to support advisers as well as the students they serve.

Many of us in this organization are journalists. We were trained to find facts and seek the truth. We were also trained to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of that truth. When people tell us “no,” it usually strengthens our resolve to keep going no matter what. But CMA itself is not a news-gathering operation and, therefore, doesn’t have the same First Amendment protections.

We also realize this may undercut our recent efforts in diversity and inclusion. Over the past few months, we have changed our job descriptions and other statements to highlight the importance of diversity/inclusion and reached out to form agreements with diversity journalism organizations. We don’t want to see this progress stalled and will continue discussions with our members and partners to make sure it doesn’t.

We will continue working on how we all can move forward as a board and as an organization. We also want to hear your input about how we can grow from this and be more responsive to you as members.

Thank you for your patience these past few weeks and for your continued support of CMA.

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Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Poynter.org. She spent two decades in…
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