Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding sent an email to all Castleton University students and staff last Thursday saying presidential candidate Anne Huot decided to withdraw from the race.
According to the email from Spaulding, Huot, one of four candidates seeking to replace Dave Wolk, is dealing with family issues that will prevent her from being the university’s new president.
However, Olivia Belanger, the editor in chief of The Equinox – the student newspaper from Keene State College – reached out to The Spartan last week regarding a public dispute between Huot and The Equinox when she was president at Keene State.
“About half-way through my freshman year is when we started noticing things,” said Belanger, now a senior.
According to Belanger, during Huot’s time as president of Keene State, the student media organizations faced major difficulties, such as budget cuts, forced chaperoned interviews with administrators and faculty and frequently denied interview requests from faculty and staff.
“It got to the point last year where our PR (Public Relations) director, Kelly Ricarte, would sit in on most of our interviews with anybody,” Belanger said.
When asked for an interview on the matter, Ricarte said that she would not comment on the story.
According to The Equinox advisor, Julio DelSesto, student reporters would be redirected to the school’s public relations department by nearly every faculty member when asked for an interview.
“The way it was framed by the communications office was that they would be there to assist us and put us in touch with the right people,” Delsesto said. “We’ve never had trouble getting in touch with the right people.”
Before Huot, reporters needed only to reach out to the professor or staff member and request an interview. Then, the two of them would decide when it was best to meet up, according to DelSesto.
“We even started to report in our stories, ‘during this interview, Kelly Ricarte was present,’ so that our readers were aware of what’s happening,” Belanger said. “It got to the point where people were afraid to talk to us because they were afraid for their jobs.”
The Equinox also sought help from the national Student Press Law Center, a legal outlet that protects student media nationwide, which in turn wrote a strongly worded letter to Huot’s replacement saying what the school is doing to the student press is wrong and needs fixing.
According to Huot, none of this happened.
Last week, after Belanger’s email, The Spartan reached out to Huot and despite her saying she was in a hurricane Irma-affected part of Florida and not available for a phone interview, she did respond via email.
“It simply is not the case that there was a requirement for a PR representative to be present at all interviews,” Huot said. “I have clarified several times my position that students, faculty and staff should speak freely with wour student reporters and the press.”
She said that if she is to be selected as Castleton University’s next president that she would, as she did at Keene State, ensure that there is a positive relationship between the administration and the student press.
Then came the decision to withdraw from consideration.
“Thursday afternoon Dr. Anne Huot notified me that an unexpected family event has arisen requiring her to withdraw from the presidential search,” Spaulding wrote in an email to the Castleton University community two days later.
Spaulding did, however, ensure in a recent interview that he expects Castleton’s next president to continue to support the freedom of the press and allows The Spartan “to print whatever the paper feels important.”
“Whomever is selected as president, there should be a clear policy regarding student press and freedom of speech,” DelSesto said. “It should be made clear that there will be no restriction of the student press ensuring an open dialogue on campus.”
Huot, in a follow-up interview interview after Spaulding’s announcement, said her withdrawal had nothing to do with The Spartan’s inquiry about her past at Keene. She left the Keene State presidency to take an unpaid year off, citing plans to return to the school as a biology professor.
“I am surprised to hear she withdrew her application because she already went behind Keene’s back to go through with this presidency, so you would think that she would really want this if she’s breaking ties with Keene,” Belanger said. “I don’t think she’ll come back after all of this, but I also didn’t think she would be applying as president somewhere else, so who knows.”
Belanger said under interim Keene State President Melinda Treadwell, students reporters are already enjoying easier access to college sources. She said staff members met with her telling her of the past problems and she was very receptive.
“And administration members who are still here that used to give us a hard time about access don't anymore,” she said.