September 30, 2020

The College Media Association is investigating its president after a mass walk-out at a publication she advises.

CMA, a professional organization made up largely of college newsroom advisers with an all-volunteer executive board, announced Wednesday morning that it would convene a group to investigate its president, Kenna Griffin, a longtime journalism adviser and instructor.

On Monday, students at NYU’s Washington Square News posted an editorial with a list of grievances that accused Griffin of being “rude and disrespectful” in her capacity as adviser, and accused her in a bullet-point list of espousing transphobic “rhetoric” and racial insensitivity, among other complaints. That followed with a list of demands that included Griffin’s immediate resignation.

The editorial stated that 43 editors at the publication were resigning immediately.

Griffin had been advising the students remotely from her home in Oklahoma on a part-time basis for six weeks, CMA members told Poynter.

The CMA Diversity & Inclusion Committee also issued a statement calling for a timely and transparent investigation that concludes no later than Oct. 12.

CMA’s president-elect Chris Whitley, director of student publications at Tarrant County (Texas) College, issued a statement after the board’s Tuesday night meeting, which read in part, “The board agreed that some of the charges stemming from the Washington Square News editorial on Monday were serious but that more fact-finding was needed … While we want the committee to be thorough, it’s important that this be done as soon as possible. … To be clear, Kenna is still CMA president and will continue to fulfill all the other functions of the office during this time.”

CMA executives serve as volunteers for two-year terms. Griffin’s term is set to expire in October 2021.

Both Griffin and CMA executive director Nora Keller said via email that they would not be offering any interviews until the investigation was concluded.

Full statement from CMA:

The CMA board in its meeting last night voted to assemble an independent committee of members who will investigate allegations made against President Kenna Griffin.

The board agreed that some of the charges stemming from the Washington Square News editorial on Monday were serious but that more fact-finding was needed. I will meet with various committee chairs today to assemble the investigative team and give its charge soon. While we want the committee to be thorough, it’s important that this be done as soon as possible.

The board also discussed how to proceed during this investigation. CMA’s bylaws make no provision for temporary removal of board members. The board instead approved a motion asking Kenna to not vote on board matters or to participate in tomorrow’s CMA Happy Hour while the investigation is ongoing.

Kenna was asked to sit in on last night’s meeting but opted against it. I informed Kenna last night about the board’s actions, and she said she wanted to see the investigation through and that she would cooperate with the committee.

To be clear, Kenna is still CMA president and will continue to fulfill all the other functions of the office during this time. While this is clearly an unusual situation, the board wants to be fair to both Kenna and to the rest of the organization. These allegations have brought out a lot of passion, but we must let facts guide us. We hope this committee will allow us to find the facts we need to assess this fairly.

Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. She can be reached at ballen@poynter.org or on Twitter, @barbara_allen_.

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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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