A California Public Records Act request by the Southwestern College Sun uncovered three more emails by Dean of Student Services Mia McClellan to an underground agitprop pamphlet periodically distributed at Southwestern College by unknown writers. McClellan has repeatedly denied communicating with the Jag Wire and inviting its anonymous members to an ASO Senate meeting on Feb. 17 concerning a review of SWC Procedure 5530 (Student Rights and Grievances) and Procedure 5500 (Standards of Student Conduct) initiated by The Sun. Recently uncovered emails showed a dean that was very involved with the clandestine publication and eager to provide information.
On March 17 Sun reporters submitted a California Public Records Act request to further investigate the connection between McClellan and publishers of the Jag Wire. The finding was a series of email correspondence initiated by pamphlet publishers in January and furthered by McClellan over a five-week period.
On March 5, days after The Sun was leaked a trove of documents that included correspondence between the dean and publishers of the pamphlet, McClellan was interviewed by Sun reporters regarding her involvement with the pamphlet for an article titled “Former Sun photographer impersonated police chief” (published in The Sun on March 16 and theswcsun.com on March 20). The article quoted her explaining how she did not know how to “approach” members of the pamphlet and denying communicating with them. An email obtained by The Sun was published alongside the article. It revealed that McClellan had invited the anonymous pamphlet publishers to a Feb. 17 ASO meeting that involved The Sun and revisions to student grievance procedures requested by The Sun to increase transparency on campus.
McClellan had denied to Sun reporters that she had been in contact with the Jag Wire and had invited members of the pamphlet to the meeting. She pretended she did not know much about the Jag Wire and did not know how to contact it.
In reality McClellan had been exchanging emails with the Jag Wire since Jan. 13, when publishers of the pamphlet wrote to her that their pamphlet was “created out of frustration” with Sun Adviser Dr. Max Branscomb and the Editorial Board of The Sun. The anonymous representative also explained the Jag Wire conducts all “interviews via email” and its members “do not have a favorable opinion of most administrators.” Their email listed a series of grievances it had with The Sun and its adviser. It asked McClellan “for any insight you might have” regarding The Sun and its adviser.
McClellan emailed back two days later.
“I appreciate your effort to reach out and receive a response from me regarding the issues described below,” she wrote in response on Jan. 15 at 2:35 a.m. “I would like to submit a response to you and I will send to you no later than Wednesday, January 21st. Thank you again.”
Six days later, on Jan. 21, the pamphlet publishers wrote back.
“We are probably going to have to push your story back to our second issue of the semester,” read the Jag Wire email, “because we are trying to stay on deadline to get issue 1 out this week. We look forward to your response.”
McClellan responded the following morning at 1:57 a.m.
“Thank you for your message,” she wrote. “I appreciate your timeline in getting your first issue distributed. I will forward you my response as soon as possible.”
Publishers of the pamphlet then emailed McClellan on Feb. 4, inquired about her “story” and asked for “a realistic time to expect” it. At the bottom of their email was a link to their first issue of the semester.
During a recorded interview on March 5 by two Sun reporters, McClellan said she knew little about the Jag Wire and denied any knowledge of its online presence.
“They’re all paper, right?” she asked reporters.
The Sun reporters explained how publishers of the pamphlet could be reached by email and phone. McClellan was later asked for her thoughts on the Jag Wire.
“I don’t have a perspective because I’ve only read one or two of them,” she said. “It’s not like they’re readily available. (The Sun has) a stand that’s right out here that’s very timely.”
When asked which issues of the Jag Wire she read, McClellan said she did not remember.
When asked if the Jag Wire had contacted her this semester, last fall or last summer, she said she did not remember.
“I don’t recall,” she said.
Sun reporters asked why she would contact an anonymous person(s) who could be a dangerous criminal or jeopardize campus safety and invite them to a meeting with students. She replied that the Sun reporters could be dangerous criminals themselves. The Sun reporters told her their identities could be verified, but publishers of the pamphlet could not. McClellan agreed.
“Sure. Absolutely,” she said.
McClellan was asked again why she would contact an anonymous person(s).
“Yeah. Okay. I’ve already given you my response,” she said.
McClellan has yet to answer the question as to why she would contact an anonymous person(s). Her motives for inviting them to campus remain unclear.
McClellan also told the Sun reporters she would not contact Jag Wire members for matters related to the college.
“I don’t contact (The Sun) generally, right? And I don’t call (The Sun) to say, this is happening. So I won’t do the same to (the Jag Wire),” she said.
Emails released under the California Public Records Act, however, show that McClellan had personally invited the members of the Jag Wire to the meeting 16 days earlier.
Following publication of The Sun’s initial report on McClellan’s involvement with the Jag Wire, she denied lying to reporters. Since publication of that article she has filed a formal complaint against Branscomb. A college employee said it was an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, but later College President Dr. Melinda Nish told Branscomb that it was actually a college ethics complaint. Nish told Branscomb she had pulled the ethics complaint.
On May 20 three student journalists, Branscomb and Governing Board President Norma Hernandez received a written demand for a retraction of the March 16 article headlined “Former Sun photographer impersonated police chief.” Members of the Editorial Board of The Sun voted 18-0 to reject the demand and stand by the article as it was written. Branscomb has also told McClellan and college administrators that he stands behind the article because it was reported accurately.
The original article and an excerpt of the recorded interview, accompanied by a transcript, can be found online at: