Quaker Campus Editorial Board 

Journalism is meant to inform the public of facts and opinions that are well corroborated and represent the best obtainable version of objective truth. That means, journalists should follow an objective method of testing hypotheses through research, observation, and validation. Journalist Peter Savodnik does not seem to quite understand that, based on his recently-published article for Common Sense about Whittier College.

The article was a poorly executed attempt to portray the College as riven by racial issues and to expose Linda Oubré for being a “dictatorial” leader. He attempted to connect these arguments to the $12 million Mackenzie Scott donation the College received in 2020, essentially saying that Scott made a mistake by giving the College money. He failed, however, to make a cogent argument in the article, and appears to have edited over his own words a few times since the article was published on Sept. 9.

While a lack of transparency is sometimes the elephant in the room with Whittier College, Savodnik’s reporting raises more questions about journalistic integrity and ethics than it answers about the issues it broadly sideswipes, ultimately serving to discredit his piece. While reporting, Savodnik “listened in on” privileged WC faculty meetings uninvited, without announcing himself as a reporter.  In a way, he went undercover. As a journalist, going undercover is typically a last resort, reserved for stories of grave concern — such as exposing dangerous working conditions or abuses within the private prison system, for example. Even then, it is rarely used. A story about a controversial hire at a small, liberal arts college is hardly grounds for such casual breaches of privacy. But then, the reporter is so eager to make this a story about everything, and so willing to rely on innuendo, that it is hard to track what this article is actually about.

Many of his sources are anonymous and the article is prone to broad claims without evidence to support them. For example, the article states,  “Anyone who dared to challenge Oubré ran the risk of being fired or smeared” and “No one is sure what that the Director of Innovation and New Ventures does.” Has anyone been fired or smeared? And, of course there are people who know what that position entails. 

Such lapses leave the piece open to questions of how much is hearsay and how much is solidly corroborated. Ironically, one of the few attributed quotes comes from a privileged, off-the-record meeting that the reporter was, again, not invited to, and at which he failed to identify himself.

Savodnik also reached out to multiple Whittier College students for this article, claiming he was a writer for Vanity Fair (he last wrote for Vanity Fair in 2020, and this piece was not published by Vanity Fair) looking for students who could “discuss the current state of campus culture/life.”

Shoddy reporting like this affects a community. Students are rightly concerned about the College’s lack of transparency, while also wondering how this random journalist got ahold of their poet emails in the first place. 

There are legitimate questions to ask. Indeed, some are raised here, but, by leaning too heavily on innuendo, gossip, and hearsay, Savodnik has made it harder to legitimately report on them, harder to have the community discourse such stories should attempt to engender.

Published in Bari Weiss’s substack Common Sense, this story is meant to be a subtextual strengthening of the narrative that so-called cancel culture and social justice measures are weakening the fabrics of American institutions and brainwashing our next generation among those that believe these claims. It fails on that account, but it has succeeded in making a mountain out of . . . something.

Meanwhile, the QC has been reporting on the substantive issue of Nate Oubré’s hire. Check back.

Author

Opinions, analysis, and official statements of The Quaker Campus Editorial Board.
  1. Jordan
    September 11, 2021

    This is terrible; before attacking a journalist for their work, don’t you think you should address the social issues within the school? We need Oubre out; where has the $12m gone? Why is her son working a fake position? I go here and I haven’t even seen/heard of him in my life. Absolute joke of a school, and terrible Quaker reporting. Embarrassing.

    1. Quaker Campus
      September 13, 2021

      As journalists, it is our responsibility to call attention to irresponsible and unethical journalism, as this editorial serves to do. We have reported on the $12 million donation and will continue to report on the distribution of these funds, such as through the new internship programs. We are also in the process of reporting on the hiring of Nate Oubre and admissions statistics; however, we are taking appropriate steps and not breaching journalistic ethics.

  2. Icare
    September 17, 2021

    You title “A lack of ethical journalism” is interesting. I wonder how you would answer the following questions.

    1. Did Savodnik claim he was staff at VF, or did he simply state that he was a contributor? If it is the latter, then he is correct and faculty, students and others are actually misrepresenting his statements.
    2. Saying something is “poorly written” does not make it untrue. Many people who work at Whittier would argue that the characterizations of Falone Serna and Bruce Smith are unfair, but they would also say that the article gets a lot right. Why does your piece not discuss this? You are telling people how to feel rather than asking. I suggest you speak with folks or conduct a survey before you go too far down this path.
    3. You say that Nate Oubre is a “controversial hire.” Really? Is that it? What does that mean? Tell me, if you were thinking about giving 10s, 100s or millions of dollars to a college, would you give to a college that endorses nepotism or to a college that follows best practices?
    4. Again, you say that Nate Oubre is just a “controversial hire,” yet he earns more money than probably 90-95% of all current employees. What effect do you think this hire–and his lack of experience in higher education–has on the Whittier workforce? Is it inspiring or disheartening to see someone with little or no experience get paid more than you? If you have a complaint about him, where do you go? Do you trust that Cynthia Joseph or Timothy Anderson will listen to you or delete your email and laugh all the way to the bank?
    5. What research have you done on leaders hiring their family? Did you google “College President Nepotism.” Take a look around at how this plays out on other campuses before you lead your readers in a direction.
    6. You say that the article is full of innuendo. Well, so is this campus, and the innuendo points to cronyism and loyalty being more important than expertise and experience.
    7. Why don’t you ask about Bruce Smith? What is the real reason for his departure?
    8. Where is the president? Why don’t you ask why she has barely been on campus for 2 years? Where was Whittier College during the pandemic? Why were we not at the forefront of helping the community through education, vaccinations, services?
    9. Do you care about your degree? How do you feel about the fact that your president calls your education “broken” and wants to sell certificates to vulnerable populations?
    10. How do you feel about people with zero or near zero experience or belief in higher education getting paid the highest salaries?
    11. How do you feel about the fact that the last presidential search was closed and that the final candidate was the student of a board member (conflict of interest)?
    12. How do you feel that many faculty and staff are afraid to speak?
    13. How do you feel that your justification of the powers that be will perpetuate and reinforce bad personnel and management practices.
    14. Do ***you*** want to give back to the college? I don’t.

  3. Brendan
    September 22, 2021

    This student article is really just a personal attack on a journalist and his methods. It doesn’t actually dispute any of the facts stated in the article. For those of us who loved Whittier College, we would be far more interested in the actual substance of the reporter’s article. From the sound of the article, the present and future of our ~135 year old alma mater look very bleak indeed.

  4. Mateo Carrillo
    October 22, 2021

    So I’m checking back more than one month later…. Where is the QC’s reporting on the substantive issue of Nate Oubré’s hire? It seems like Peter Savodnik’s methods are dubious yet effective at uncovering the truth, whereas the QC has no method at all.

  5. 5Krunner
    December 20, 2021

    The hiring of Nate Oubre is akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes. Here is a job title that never existed, and suddenly, poof! A job that pays substantially more than most professors make and wait, is filled by the son of the college president because he attended an Ivy League school and has a law degree that he doesn’t use. Ok! Sign here, you’re hired. What a farce. This is an embarrassment. Where is the accountability?

    Don’t get me started on the ineffective adjunct professor who was hired because his wife was a legacy student, who became the director of admissions who brought him to WC to earn his MA. Personality is great, but if you don’t know the content, step down.

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