HSU denies report on Bolman firing, others confirm it

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

HSU – Faculty and Native American students have refuted an administration official’s denial of a Mad River Union report that Humboldt State University fired a Native American educator, Jacquelyn Bolman, for criticizing the school’s handling of under-represented student programs.

Faculty and student insiders are adamant that campus officials sacked Bolman for whistleblowing. The administration official, Frank Whitlatch, emailed the Mad River Union editor, Jack Durham, last week, stating, “The Mad River Union story [front page, Jan. 28] is inaccurate, and its central claim is not true: Jacquelyn Bolman was not fired for her criticism of the university.”

Whitlatch added, “The story quotes negative statements about Jacquelyn Bolman in documents and emails released through a public records request. But it does not in any way support the claim that those statements are related to a personnel action.”

“Whitlatch is wrong,” a science faculty member declared flatly in an email and in a one-on-interview. Well-versed in campus politics, the professor disclosed the backstory of the personalities involved and pinpointed how Bolman’s criticism of the former Richmond administration led to her ouster last October.

The officials who carried out the firing were Acting Provost Jenny Zorn, Interim Associate Vice President for Retention Radha Webley and Senior Associate Vice President of Faculty Affairs and Human Resources Colleen Mullery.

“Webley and Mullery, along with Vice Provost Jená Burges and Chief of Staff Denice Helwig, wanted Jacquelyn out. They were able to end-run [President Lisa] Rossbacher, it was easy. Being new, she wasn’t really up to speed. Likewise, Zorn is a lame duck. And Rossbacher is another Rollin [Richmond] – evasive, no follow-through, always telling you what you want to hear.”

The key point, the professor explained, is “Jacquelyn is an extremely independent person. She was considered insubordinate, not a team player. Administration executives didn’t like her independence and wouldn’t put up with her criticism. ”

A dean, Rhea Williamson, complained in an internal email last year that Bolman’s criticism of HSU to federal officials who manage a minority support program called LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation) could well jeopardize important future grant funding for the Arcata campus’s under-represented students.

An eyewitness account also refutes Whitlatch. A Native American science student who asked not to be named pointed out that he, not Whitlatch, was physically present when Bolman was ordered to gather her personal effects and ejected from her INRSEP office (Indian Natural Resources and Science Education Program).

“I was sitting at a computer in the INRSEP house when Zorn, Mullery and Webley came in suddenly. They were carrying a copy of Jacquelyn’s annual report to LSAMP. It contained a paragraph criticizing the administration’s treatment and lack of support for underrepresented students at INRSEP.

“They all went into Jacquelyn’s office and closed the door. When they came back out, Zorn and Bolman were arguing in loud voices. Zorn said something like, ‘No, Jacquelyn, no, we do support students of color, you’re wrong.’ After they left, I found the copy of the LSAMP report that Zorn left behind, lying on a desk.”

Whitlatch is “stonewalling,” the Native student charged. “There’s absolutely no doubt that Jacquelyn’s criticism of INRSEP’s downgrade caused her dismissal. The simple fact is they considered her a whistleblower.”

He added in an email, “The amazing thing is that Jacquelyn’s written comments [to LSAMP] were based on the data she received from her supervisor, Radha Webley, who fired Jacquelyn for restating it! Ms. Webley herself was quoted in a 2009 North Coast Journal article in which she cited an HSU diversity report that summer that she co-authored: “‘Section by section, these pages tell a story of inequity and exclusion, a story where Students of Color on our campus feel isolated and uncomfortable... and marginalized academically.’”

“Yet she was not terminated or reprimanded for saying this,” the student remarked, incredulous.

Reading Whitlatch’s statement, activist student Ama Tierney laughed out loud. “They’re [the administration] just protecting themselves from a lawsuit. This entire time, their playbook has been to consult with lawyers. This statement reads right out of a lawyer’s playbook.”

Tierney shrugged off Whitlatch’s email to the Union as typical of the negative message the administration is sending to prospective Native American students nationwide. “The Native community communicates by word of mouth and the word of mouth is, ‘This university will cut your programs, fire your mentors and disrespect your culture.’”

She concluded, “Given that message, Native Americans are not going to come from out of state to attend this university. On the other hand, if the administration respected indigenous cultures, this could become a premier Native American campus.”        

Confronted with student demands for Bolman’s reinstatement and Webley’s dismissal, the administration has stated unequivocally that both actions are non-negotiable, concede students residing in the Native American Forum in hopes of turning Rossbacher around.

Given the administration’s reputed intransigence, the science professor said CSU Chancellor Timothy White, headquartered in Long Beach, “should come up here and meet with all of the local tribal leaders. And meet them without Rossbacher or Helwig or any other administration officials present.”

Paul Mann was HSU press aide from 2003-2014. – Ed.

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10 Comments

  1. flancrest said:

    “This is common practice. I’m fine with it. Others may disagree.”

    It may be common practice in your “news”room but it’s not common practice among serious journalists. Among the others who disagree with you: The Associated Press and The New York Times public editor:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/the-public-editor-the-disconnect-on-anonymous-sources.html

    “If they find that an insistence on anonymity keeps their point of view out of the paper, they may come around. If they won’t, someone else will.

    Editors have a role here, too — in drawing a hard line by not allowing material from unidentified sources, particularly quotations, to be published. Reporters can then blame their editors, in the time-honored way, and sources may find they would rather be named than ignored.”

  2. Saul Goodman said:

    Nice try except that, in this case, the unnamed individual you’re protecting is a professor with tenure who cannot be fired anyway, so we’re left to wonder why he’d demand anonymity … unless he knows there’s something about his statements that isn’t quite right. The University bureaucrat you’ve quoted, who might be saying only what he’s paid to say, has much more credibility if only because he has the courage to put his name to it.

    Your reporter was coddled for years by the Richmond administration until his luck ran out and its clear he has an axe to grind. So sad that you’ve now been cornered into defending as “journalism” his shoddy personal agenda.

  3. Tashi said:

    AND these people that have (probably) schemed Boleman’s firing are now realizing they royally messed up, and will try to protect their jobs in any way possible.

    This is assuming, of course, Boleman’s firing was not actually warranted. We still don’t actually know why, mind you. All of you.

  4. Tashi said:

    It’s probably controversial, but I do believe that Rossbacher came into the situation too late in the game. The professor says “They were able to end-run [President Lisa] Rossbacher, it was easy. Being new, she wasn’t really up to speed.”
    This is not that hard to believe, or understand. She had barely been running campus, OF COURSE she’s going to listen to those who have been here longer. Anyone who understands politics, should know that a president’s power is not an end-all be-all thing. She can’t just snap her fingers and re-hire Boleman. Who knows, maybe there’s some other crazy controversy that’s going on behind closed doors that’s preventing Rossbacher from doing more than telling us what we want to hear.

    After all, the people that have been here the longest and are “advising” her are Rollin’s leftovers.

  5. Jack Durham said:

    When writing news articles, we can typically interview people who are knowledgable about the situation, review documents and cite all of our sources without using anonymous sources. However, in the case of the Bolman firing, the HSU administration can’t tell us why she was fired due to legal reasons. But being that her firing is at the center of this controversy, we need to find out why. Some of those who have information or insights into the situation are concerned, rightly or wrongly, that they may be retaliated against if they speak out. So therefor we gather information, but keep them anonymous. Keep in mind that these folks are not anonymous to the reporter, only to the reader. This is common practice. I’m fine with it. Others may disagree.

  6. Uhhhhih said:

    Jack, can you explain why the nature of the store requires anonymous sources? This is only a touch above us anonymous blog commenters.

  7. Jack Durham said:

    We also use anonymous sources sparingly. This HSU series is an exception because of the nature of the issue.

  8. flancrest said:

    Again, reliance on anonymous sources, and in a story written by someone who used to work directly for Frank Whitlatch until he himself was terminated/left involuntarily. The story about Bollman’s firing may be true, but the continued lack of attribution, and the fact that the story’s author himself may have an axe to grind against the University and Whitlatch personally, discredits it.

    Glad to see you got a student on the record, shame it wasn’t the student with the account of Bollman’s firing, which itself isn’t highly credible in part because it’s also unattributed. It’s easy to make up a story about something like this if there can’t be consequences for deception because you’ve allowed them to be anonymous. Yet another reason the Associated Press and all serious media organizations use anonymous sources sparingly if at all.

  9. Johannes said:

    This is all hilarious. If you work at HSU you know it as the most politically correct campus on the west coast. Lesbians rule the roost, with only feminized males ever hired (or retained). Most of the employees are Anglo, it is true, but that’s going to happen when most new hires are married or related to current employees ( who are white).

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