As the director of public relations for Cal State Dominguez Hills, I’m often contacted by reporters to comment or help with contacts for stories about the university, its programs and its employees. In dealing with these media representatives, I’ve come to appreciate and expect stories that are fair, balanced and, most of all, accurate.
However, the Weekly’s recent article focusing on Dominguez Hills and its president, Robert Detweiler [“The Silent Treatment at Do min guez Hills,” December 12–18], failed to live up to any of the above journalistic values.
I believe it is relevant to point out that a member of your editorial staff is also the spouse of one of our more outspoken faculty members — a major critic of Detweiler and other campus administrators. I believe the existence of this relationship and your publishing an article about a 4-year-old sexual-harassment case is more than coincidence.
Still, that doesn’t explain your publication’s free and easy use of unnamed sources. Most legitimate newspapers would not have pursued, much less printed, a story where no one but the “embattled president” (as you put it) is directly quoted. I realize there are times when a source needs to remain anonymous, but this is not necessarily one of those instances, especially as regards the “senior faculty member” who is protected by both tenure and the faculty union.
The most alarming aspect of the article for me, however, was its inaccuracy — statements of “fact” that are not true. For example:
1. The table-of-contents teaser states: “The chief administrator at Cal State Dominguez Hills is fending off charges of possible misconduct in disposing of a sexual-harassment claim.” This is incredibly misleading, and false. First, the use of the words charges and misconduct carry legal implications that just aren’t there. Simply put, the president has never been “charged” with anything with regard to this former administrator’s sexual-harassment case. Secondly, there has never been any claim of misconduct on the part of the president in dealing with this case. So exactly what has he been “fending off”?
2. The subhead states: “College officials help out alleged harasser, hush up his accusers.” This, too, is not true. No official on campus has the power to “hush up” anyone, nor did anyone attempt to do so.
3. The article states: “Last May, the student government at Dominguez Hills voted unanimously to censure the president for ‘general mismanagement and broken promises’ after 80 class sections were canceled last spring due to budget shortfalls.” In truth, the president was never censured by the student government.
4. “The money problems stemmed from the failure of a strategy by Detweiler and other administrators to boost revenues by recruiting foreign students.” This is also incorrect. In fact, the president explained to Cohen that the budget shortfall last spring, which led to the class cancellations, was due to an overscheduling of class sections.
5. “University attorneys, for example, insisted that as part of her settlement, Maddern agree not to discuss the Hartman matter with press.” Again, not true. We told Cohen that not discussing the case after the settlement had been mutually agreed upon by both Maddern’s and the university’s attorneys. Maddern did not have to agree with this part of the agreement, but had her reasons for doing so.
6. Finally, Cohen wrote: “In the case of Hartman, university officials apparently have worked hard to squelch any negative information.” It seems odd that she would make this assertion. University officials gave Cohen all the documents on this case and on other sexual-harassment cases when she requested them. Then, both President Detweiler and another campus official agreed to an interview and answered her questions. If anything, campus officials were generous with their time and resources.
Under President Detweiler’s administration, the university has been very timely and responsive in respect to claims of sexual harassment. University officials have moved, without hesitation, to give the most appropriate discipline in these matters, including termination. In her article, Cohen noted that reports of “untoward behavior” reached officials in August 1993, but fails to mention that two weeks after these reports were made, a preliminary investigation took place and the accused administrator was placed on administrative leave while a more complete investigation was conducted. This investigation ended with the administrator’s resignation in October. Anyone familiar with these types of personnel matters will tell you this was a swift handling of such an incident.
In short, what Cohen did was base the tone of the article on the subjective information of several unnamed sources who have an obvious bias against the president and his administration. The result was a very one-sided story that fails to present the point of view of the majority of people on campus, who believe President Detweiler is doing a very commendable job.
I’m not so naive as to believe that every story written about Dominguez Hills is going to be a positive one. I do believe, however, it is reasonable for our campus community to expect articles that are accurate, balanced and fair — stories that reflect the standards and professionalism of good, responsible journalism.
Director, Public Relations
Cal State University, Dominguez Hills
THE EDITOR REPLIES: Rather than unnamed sources, the article relied primarily on university records and on documents filed in connection with a lawsuit. Some of these documents were provided by the university, but only after the administration initially denied their existence in some cases or asserted that we had no right to see them in others. To get the records, we had to use our unnamed sources to piece together identifying information on specific documents, then assert the university’s legal obligation to provide them. We are grateful to the university’s legal staff for having correctly realized that these documents are part of the public record and insisting that the administration provide them.
Several of our unnamed sources made a persuasive case that they feared administrative retaliation; the Weekly, therefore, agreed not to name them. We also independently verified information they provided. We stand by the facts in the article as originally presented, although two clarifications are necessary. According to Associated Students president Alexis Saenz, the student governing body did in fact pass a motion to censure Detweiler, but never drafted the actual censure to accompany the action. As for the budget, university documents indicate that several factors contributed to the school’s financial problems, including the one Ms. Cohen named and the one cited by Gloady — together resulting in the cancellation of classes.
. . . GOLDIN
Greg Goldin’s article on energy deregulation [“Electric Shock Therapy,” December 26–January 1] contained an error. It said that like the “$500 billion S&L bailout . . . taxpayers will pay heavily, but own nothing.” Not true. The $500 billion was used by the Resolution Trust Corp. to buy ownership of the failed banks’ assets, mainly land and buildings. Thus taxpayers owned those assets. The RTC sold these, raising money for the Treasury. The net cost to taxpayers was $150 billion.