While Marquette has been divided over Northern Michigan’s student paper The North Wind, some people are just rolling their eyes and saying “stuff like that doesn’t actually happen here.” But now the responses with federal court are filed and there are interesting arguments on both sides regarding personal freedom, educational rights and equality no matter where the case is held.
We’ve broken up the case so far into four parts to give as equal and fair coverage as possible, using quotes from public documents, interviewing the people involved and providing all of the case filings for the public to read. Today is the second part of the series sharing the defense’s side.
So far, all’s been quiet on the defense’s front.
Students Pearl Gaidelis, Aubrey Kall, Eric Laksonen and Troy Morris and Northern Michigan University Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Steven Neiheisel have not made any media appearances since plaintiffs Cheryl Reed and Michael Williams filed in federal court on April 16. NMU did release a statement at the time.
Morris, Laksonen and Kall did not reply to our requests for an interview. Gaidelis politely declined. In an email to Northern Michigan for a response from Neiheisel, Assistant Vice President of Identity, Brand and Marketing Derek Hall responded that NMU is not commenting related to the case. NMU officials also turned down an opportunity to talk to ABC 10’s In Focus program. Reed and Williams said they were not contacted by the Mining Journal before their case coverage on June 4, so it is unclear if the defense were also offered a chance to speak their side.
This leaves only the testimony that the defendants submitted in court — which as discussed yesterday — was very shy on any actual evidence. However the affidavits recalling the events that led up to the filing was intense.
The defense had one tactic: proving Williams and Reed were not the right people for those paper.
“The defendants each voted based on his/her well-ground belief that the Plaintiffs were poorly suited to the positions,” they wrote in their introduction to respond.
The Defense against Michael Williams
Multiple defendants accused Williams of unprofessional behavior. Neiheisel said Williams was intoxicated in a previous interview for the editor in chief position.
“Examples of Williams lack of professionalism included his appearing for a prior interview for the Editor-in-Chief position when he appeared to me to be under the influence of alcohol and with the distinct and powerful smell of alcohol on his person,” Neiheisel wrote.
Laksonen believed this prior instance was enough to know he wasn’t the right fit for the North Wind.
“I was surprised we were even considering (Williams),” Laksonen wrote. “He had shown up to his December 2014 interview reeking of alcohol and clearly under the influence and we had rejected him as an Editor-in-Chief candidate then.”
Williams said that he was not drunk at the interview.
“I think relying on what is essentially hearsay to discredit me is a desperate move,” Williams said. “There is zero documentation to support their claims. Everything there is based on rumor.”
Hall said that NMU could not comment on if there were any student code violations or public safety reports regarding Williams and alcohol due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
This was Williams’s second time applying for editor in chief. After not attending NMU for the Fall semester, he was one of the candidates when that position opened up. Emma Finkbeiner was named editor instead but Williams was named managing editor.
Four of the five defendants referenced a comment Williams made in a previous meeting as being “highly inappropriate” as another factor for denying him the position. Filling in for the editor in chief, Williams made a comment regarding a past relationship of Kall. Kall dated a former editor in chief of the North Wind during some of the 2013-2014 school year while she was a member of the board.
“I thought the comment was entirely out of line, sexist and unprofessional, but (Williams) seemed rather proud of himself for saying it,” Kall wrote.
Williams admitted to making the comment.
“I do regret that comment and I have apologized for it, though it may have been too little too late,” Williams said. “In my mind I was calling out a conflict of interest that bothered me all last year. That was my first board meeting and it was tense. I think I let my emotions about that issue get the best of me.”
Gaidelis was the one defendant that did not mention the comment in her affidavit because she was not at that meeting. She was actually absent most of the Winter semester, not attending any meeting until the April 3 when the board did not hire Williams to editor in chief or retain Reed as journalistic advisor.
Her absence is one of the biggest wild cards in the case because she did not witness the discourse of the board like the other members. That gives a big bump to the credibility of the defense’s take of Williams’s interview, which she said was “very poor.”
“He did not seem well prepared and came across as if he thought the job was already his. When asked more difficult questions, he tended not to have very good answers,” she wrote. “In listening to the other Board members make their comments, it didn’t seem to me that anyone was coming up with any good positive reasons for hiring Michael other than that he was the only candidate who had applied.”
Williams believed that his interview was stronger than his first, but that the questions from the board was not going to give an honest result.
“The questions by the board members who’ve served in media felt legitimate, but the questions from the defendants were either personal or standard corporate H.R. questions that were not specific to the North Wind,” Williams said. “To say that I interviewed poorly is to say they don’t understand the extent of duties on the editorial staff and that they based their decision on my personality.”
The defense supplied no evidence besides the defendants’ testimony regarding Williams.