For 60 minutes yesterday, I felt bad for the people who banned me.
Last week, I documented the odd decision by the College Media Association to ban me from teaching sessions at their conventions from now till…well, whenever they change their minds.
At noon yesterday, I spent my lunch hour on the phone with the six members of CMA’s board of directors. President Kenna Griffin warmly began…
This is not a due process hearing. CMA can deny convention sessions for any reason without explanation. The board agreed to have this call as a courtesy to you, because you requested a discussion with us.
It wasn’t much of a discussion.
First, I learned I’m more banned than I thought. Griffin told me something she forgot to mention last week…
Because students and advisers were uncomfortable with the things you wrote and said, we decided not to put you directly in one-on-one contact with students. So we have agreed to deny future sessions from you – and not to schedule you for critiques or one-on-one student programming.
Second, no one remembers when they voted to quarantine me from students. They weren’t embarrassed about that, either. I was a little embarrassed for them, actually. Stunned, I asked…
Me: Does the board follow Robert’s Rules of Order?
Griffin: Yes. Um, yes we do.
Me: Then when was this vote taken? Because it’s not documented in your minutes, and there’s no documentation of an executive session.
Griffin: We had a special call among the board when we were talking about how to address the complaints. We don’t believe that a formal vote was taken. The board discussed it and decided how we were going to proceed.
Me: So regardless of my issue, you’ve had board calls you don’t document?
Griffin: We have.
So much for Robert’s Rules of Order then.
Since Griffin was doing most of the talking, I interrupted: “I would love to get some confirmation from the other board members if they agree with everything you’ve said so far.”
President-elect Chris Whitley replied, “Kenna, correct me if I’m wrong, but this was only a discussion about the New York convention.” That happens next month.
Stunned, I corrected him: “No, that’s not what Kenna put in multiple emails. I’m prevented from contact with students until the board says otherwise. Kenna, am I correct on that?”
“You are correct on that,” Griffin said.
I felt a little bad for Whitley, who’s a nice guy. When he was CMA’s convention director in 2017, he not only approved a half-dozen of my sessions, he let me program two rooms all by myself.
The other board members agreed with the ban, albeit some more enthusiastically than others. But none would – or maybe could – answer how many complaints were lodged against me.
Throughout the meeting, I kept coming back to that question: How many students complained? And what exactly did they say?
“I think we can make a list of some of the students if we chose to do so,” Griffin said at one point, before admitting the next moment, “I don’t think that we have a comprehensive list.”
That led to this surreal exchange with CMA secretary Bryce McNeil…
Me: How many complaints were there? 10? 20? 30? 50? 100?
McNeil: Well, less than 100. But it was multiple. … I seem to remember it being in the 10 to 15 range. It might’ve been more than that. It might’ve been less than that. Kenna, am I off?
Kenna: I just truthfully don’t know.
Wow, I thought. I’m banned based on reporting so shoddy, these journalism professors would surely fail their students if they turned in the same effort.
I finally asked about the decision itself. We’d already established they couldn’t remember when that was. October, maybe. Earlier perhaps. So I asked why they went straight for a ban without asking me for an apology or meting out some lesser punishment…
Me: What actions were considered by this board besides banning me from programming?
Me: I’m assuming that means there were none…
Kenna: No, I’d have to think back to that. It wasn’t like this was a five-minute conversation, and we were finished with it.
Me: Can I ask how long the conversation was?
Kenna: I know we had a call. But I’m sure that we had other conversations about it – probably on Slack or via email. So it wasn’t like there was a singular conversation where, you know, we talked for five minutes or whatever and decided this was the action that we were gonna take. It was something that we discussed.
That wasn’t clarifying, but I moved on. Or tried to.
Kenna interrupted me whenever I called my ban “permanent.” She insisted the board would meet before every convention and add to its agenda, well, me.
I asked Griffin if she could see changing her mind in the future.
“Personally, my vote will not change,” she said flatly. “But what would change my position would be if the board’s opinion changed. Because I’m one person on a board of people.”
So I asked the rest of the board if time would heal whatever wounds I’ve inflicted. My exchange with Whitley pretty much sums up the others…
Me: So your offer is, “We’ll discuss this before every convention.” I am asking once again: What would possibly be different?
Whitley: I guess I’ll just say, I don’t know what the answer to that question is. You were saying: Do we want to do this in perpetuity? I don’t know anyone has used the phrase “in perpetuity.” But we always want to leave open the option that things will change. I don’t know what that would be, but I’m not going to say this is eternal.
Me: OK, Chris, what would change your mind?
Whitley: Like I said, I don’t know.
Sounds eternal to me.
It became clear that even if I apologized now, nothing would change. Then vice president Allison Bennett Dyche said this…
I have two questions for you. Koretzky. Number one, if you’re willing to issue an apology without knowing names – because, I mean, you’re not going to get names – why not go ahead and issue that apology? And number two, I’m going to turn this back on you. What changes do you think you could make that would change our mind as a board?
It took me a moment to understand what she was asking. Which seemed to be: Why not apologize even though we haven’t told you exactly what you did to whom? And while you’re at it, even though the ban is permanent, how can you appease us?
On the first question, I replied, “I am willing to apologize, but it’s hard to apologize for that which I do not know. Get me details on what happened – without the names.”
On the second, I got prickly…
I don’t know that it’s my responsibility to genuflect before this board. I don’t know that I can DO anything, because basically you have all said YOU don’t know if I can do anything. So if you don’t know, I don’t know.
That was the theme of the hour: No one knows.
If you’re wondering how I got such accurate quotes, it’s simple: I requested our call be recorded. Feel free to listen to the whole twisted hour and see if I’ve misrepresented anything. Of course, other aspects of my ban came up, but they mostly tracked the same: vague answers to specific questions.
So based on last week and yesterday, I feel confident concluding…
These journalism teachers don’t know their own five W’s and H – who complained, what exactly did they say, where did I threaten a student, when did the board decide to ban me, why wasn’t I told about my ban for at least four months, and how long will this ban last.
It’s so embarrassing that I’m not the only one planning to crash CMA’s New York convention in mid-March. Other media professionals will join me. Because they know this is a bad look for a journalism organization – and a scary precedent.