Emails show candidate was offered, quickly terminated from OSM director position

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Emails show candidate was offered, quickly terminated from OSM director position

CW/ Joe Will Field

CW/ Joe Will Field

CW/ Joe Will Field

CW/ Joe Will Field

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Emails obtained by The Crimson White through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request confirm that Bob Davis was offered and accepted the position of Director of the Office of Student Media at The University of Alabama, but was terminated five days later.


RECAP 

The Crimson White has been investigating Davis and the hiring process for the Director of the Office of Student Media since receiving a tip on July 17 that raised concerns about Davis’ journalistic ethics during his 14-and-a-half years working at The Anniston Star.

Here’s a timeline of how the investigation unfolded and the subsequent articles that were published:

Wednesday, July 17 at 5 p.m. – The Crimson White received and began investigating a tip about the allegations against Davis, which first surfaced in an article by Eddie Burkhalter for the Alabama Political Reporter (APR) on January 1, 2018. 

Burkhalter, who worked with Davis at the Anniston Star for nine years, first discovered the allegations that H. Brandt Ayers, The Star’s former publisher and former chairman of the Board of Consolidated Publishing, had “spanked” multiple female reporters in the mid-1970s from a column by APR columnist Joey Kennedy on November 16, 2017 that detailed how his wife, Veronica, was forcibly spanked by Ayers during her time at The Star.

Burkhalter claimed that he was ordered by The Star’s managing editor Ben Cunningham, on Davis’ instruction, to not contact any of the victims and to not pursue the story. Burkhalter then left The Star and published the story with APR. 

Davis offered a comment in his defense, saying Burkhalter was “a disgruntled employee who tried to make the story about himself, not about real suffering of people, which is the story that The Anniston Star pursued.”

In that initial article, The Crimson White also included comments from Davis’ column that he wrote in the aftermath of Burkhalter leaving The Star and publishing his findings elsewhere. He gives his side of the story in his column, saying, in part, that the editorial staff “hadn’t made a decision to publish a story, and … hadn’t made a decision to not publish a story.”

When asked if Davis had been offered the position, Davis and two other members on the search committee declined to comment. Adam Sterritt, the Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement & Academic Partnerships in the Division of Student Life, makes the final decision on the hire. He could not be reached for comment. 

Thursday, July 18, at 8 a.m. – The Crimson White published an initial article detailing ethical concerns about a potential candidate for the director of student media position. 

[READ: Ethical concerns surround candidate for Student Media director position]

Friday, July 19 – The Crimson White filed several FOIA requests regarding the hiring status of the candidates for the position as well as any correspondence between UA employees, Sterritt and David Grady (who would resign from his position as vice president of Student Life a week later, for reasons neither he nor the University disclosed to the public) regarding the allegations against Davis.  

Saturday, July 20 – After being approached by and reaching out to CW alumni and Cunningham, who still works as the managing editor at The Star, The Crimson White published a second story of their responses to the allegations against Davis and his potential hiring. Neither Sterritt nor Davis responded to repeated attempts for comment. 

[READ: UA alumni react to OSM controversy]

Monday, July 22, at 12:24 p.m. – The previous story was updated to reflect that Sterritt was reached on Monday morning and declined to comment on Davis’ hiring status or the allegations against him. 

Thursday, July 25 – Joey Kennedy penned an editorial for Alabama Political Reporter, criticizing Davis’ consideration and candidacy for the director position. In one paragraph, he wrote:

“If Davis was ever a finalist for the position or if, remarkably, he is eventually hired, that is an indication of two possibilities:
1. Either the university selection committee didn’t vet Davis very well, or

2. The selection committee simply didn’t care they were about to hire a director of student media who tried to kill a credible story about sexual and physical abuse that was detrimental to Bob Davis’ own boss at the time.”

Friday, July 26 at 3 p.m. – Monica Watts, Associate Vice President of Communications at the University of Alabama, confirmed that Davis was no longer a candidate for the OSM Director position. However, she declined to comment on whether Davis was ever offered the position and did not offer an explanation on why Davis was no longer a candidate.

“The only thing I can tell you right now is that [Davis] is no longer a candidate for that position,” Watts said.

Emails obtained that day from a candidate who was not hired for the position, however, revealed that the position had at one point been filled, given the assumption that this position was filled in accordance to the University’s staff online recruitment process. This candidate, who remained anonymous, works in student media in another state. 

[READ: UPDATE: Davis no longer a candidate for OSM director, questions remain regarding hiring process]

Tuesday, July 30 at 5:05 p.m. – Emails obtained by The Crimson White through FOIA requests confirmed that the position had been offered to Davis – who later accepted – before the first piece was published about the ethical concerns against him.


THE EMAILS 

Emails from the University of Alabama Human Resources department show that an offer for the position of OSM director was sent to Davis, referred to as Charles Davis in the emails, on July 15, 2019. An excerpt of the email reads:

“Dear Charles:

On behalf of The University of Alabama, we are pleased to offer you the position of Director, Student Media – 508717, in the department of 860301 – Student Media Admin reporting to Adam Sterritt.

“If this offer is accepted, your employment with The University of Alabama will be at-will and may be terminated, either by your employer or supervisor at any time, for any reason, with or without notice. Please signify your acceptance of this offer of employment by accepting the offer online through the UA Employment System.”

An email dated July 16, 2019 at 8:07 a.m. with the subject line “An Online Offer has been made” from UA recruitment to Sterritt states that an online offer was made to Davis and that the status of the remaining applicants was to be updated to “not hired.” An excerpt reads:

“At this time, you should start to update the status on the remaining applicants. It is important that we accurately track the statuses of all applicants. All applicants that were interviewed for Director, Student Media – 508717 should be moved through ‘interview complete’ status for tracking purposes. If you have an alternate finalist for this position, please move them to the ‘alternate finalist recommendation’ status. All remaining applicants should be moved to the ‘not hired’ status once the requisition has closed. Please contact your HR Recruiter, Megan Riehm, if you have any questions.”

An email dated July 16, 2019 at 9:11 a.m. from the HR department with the subject line “Offer accepted notification” shows that Davis accepted the offer. The email was sent to Sterritt, the final authority on who is hired for the position. It reads:

“Dear Adam Sterritt,

Charles Davis has accepted their offer for Director, Student Media – 508717, requisition 508717.

Their tentative start date will be on the 1 Aug 2019. Please contact your HR Recruiter to change the start date.” 

An email from Sterritt was sent to Davis on July 20, 2019 at 7:36 p.m. with the subject line “Termination Notice” that said Davis was offered the chance to withdraw from the OSM director position but that Davis has declined to do so. This termination notice was sent two days after The Crimson White published an article detailing allegations of Davis’ involvement with killing an unfolding story about sexual assault at The Star. The CW had published its second story, “UA alumni react to OSM controversy,” earlier that day. The email reads:

“Dear Mr. Davis,

You were provided the opportunity to withdraw from the process associated with filling the Student Media Director position, which you have declined. An employment relationship involving you and the University cannot succeed. This note serves to immediately terminate both further discussions and any at-will working relationship between you and the University.”


SEE THE EMAILS

The Crimson White received the following four documents on Tuesday, July 30 as a result of a FOIA request filed by CW Editor-in-Chief Savannah Bullard on Friday, July 19. They are presented in chronological order, which is the same order in which their excerpts appear in the story above. Click the links below to read the documents.

Of the five FOIA requests filed by The Crimson White’s reporting team, only one yielded results. The other four, according to Open Records and Policy Specialist Lindsey Hughey, did not yield any “responsive public documents” for the requests.

The Crimson White reached out to Adam Sterritt, Bob Davis and UA’s Division of Strategic Communications employees Monica Watts, Deidre Stalnaker (Director of Communications) and Chris Bryant (Assistant Director of Media Relations) on Thursday, Aug. 1 to comment on the results of the FOIA requests. No messages were returned by Sterritt, Davis or Watts, and Stalnaker and Bryant said they had no additional information about the email exchange or unfulfilled records requests. Bryant said he would work on getting that information.


TRACI MITCHELL NAMED INTERIM OSM DIRECTOR

The OSM administrative staff, from left to right: Traci Mitchell, Terry Siggers, Paul Wright, Julie Salter, Amy Sullivan and Mark Mayfield.           CW / Joe Will Field

On Thursday, Aug. 1, Traci Mitchell confirmed that she will serve as interim director of the Office of Student Media while the search for a director proceeds.

“I’m happy to assist in any way I can during this transition period for our department,” she said in an email. “Our retired director, Paul Wright, left some large shoes to fill and it’s going to take all of us some time to get used to him not being here. He raised UA Student Media to new heights and I will work very closely with our professional staff and students so we can keep that momentum going.”

Mitchell currently serves as one of the OSM’s assistant directors, with a focus on business operations and handling budgets. Her career in student media began at the University of Mississippi, working in various roles at its Student Media Center.

Moving forward, Mitchell said she hopes to maintain the OSM’s “solid” foundation and serve as a smooth transitional force while a new director is sought.

“I’ve been passionately involved with college student media for a very long time and have witnessed incredible growth and unprecedented changes and challenges,” she said in an email. “Student Media has a strong, rich history at the University of Alabama. I’m excited to continue to work with our incredibly talented professional staff and students as we continue to move forward.”

Mitchell was unable to answer any questions regarding whether she will still serve on the search committee for the OSM director, a position she previously held during the first search. She also was unable to comment on the status of the new search and how it will be conducted, in terms of personnel or protocol.