Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Unanswered Questions Surrounding Stolen Newspapers

“It’s been totally silent, he hasn’t said anything and that’s been upsetting to me because I know that there are non-binary and queer identifying people in that class,” said an English major currently enrolled in Fr. David Leigh S.J.’s capstone English course. “It’s just upsetting because there are people who have been personally offended by his actions and they haven’t had any recourse or dialogue with him over it.”

Leigh is a professor and member of the Seattle U Jesuit community. Last month he sparked controversy when he admitted to intentionally emptying at least three different Spectator newsstands because he was offended by the cover, which featured a photo of a Seattle U student performing at the annual Drag Show.

The student in Leigh’s capstone noted that the course theme is “Emerging Adulthood,” where students meditate on the process of growing up and coming into the responsibility of adulthood.

Since the incident, Leigh has continued teaching his classes as usual. At this point in time, it remains unclear if he will receive any discipline for his actions. Some professors have said the lack of clarity regarding disciplinary actions against Leigh is indicative of his position as a respected teacher and Jesuit on campus.

“I do believe that status played a role in this,” said Bryan Adamson, professor in the Seattle U School of Law who specializes in media law. If Leigh was someone with a different status level on campus, Adamson said, “I don’t think that they would be sitting in their office the next day admitting to it and there being no consequences. If the person who had done this was not a well-regarded and well-respected teacher, professor, Jesuit, we would definitely see a different outcome.”

After The Spectator filed a report with Seattle U Public Safety on April 17 notifying them of missing newspapers, officers reviewed video footage from multiple points on campus. Executive Director of Public Safety Craig Birklid quickly determined that it was Leigh who removed “a number of papers in one fell swoop” at multiple locations.

After he made the discovery, Birklid emailed Fr. Thomas Lucas S.J., the Rector of the Jesuit Community at Seattle U, to notify him that a Jesuit was involved with the investigation. Birklid then emailed his own boss, Executive Vice President Timothy Leary, notifying him of Leigh’s actions.

Hours later, The Spectator received an apology email from Leigh in which he stated that he had no further comment on the matter.

Since then, not much has been said about Leigh by the university administration.

University President Fr. Stephen Sundborg S.J., Interim Provost Bob Dullea and English Department Chair Maria Bullon-Fernandez all declined to comment on what disciplinary actions, if any, would be taken against Leigh. Dullea pointed to the faculty handbook which details the process of disciplinary actions against faculty, though he would not comment on this particular scenario.

During a campus-wide forum on April 25, Sundborg condemned Leigh’s actions, but added that he admires Leigh.

David Powers, dean of the college of arts and sciences, said in an email statement that all behavior across the university is governed by the faculty handbook and the Seattle U Human Resources policy manual. Powers declined to comment on any specific cases.

“I have a managerial role in overseeing and responding to issues of faculty and staff conduct in the College of Arts & Sciences,” Powers said in the statement. “Because of that managerial role I cannot comment on particular responses to A&S faculty or staff behavior, but I can tell you that issues are addressed within those guidelines when they arise.”

Professor Adamson called Fr. Leigh’s actions “paternalistic” and “troublesome.” Adamson explained that in Washington State, there are no laws explicitly condemning the theft of newspapers, though he cited other states that do like California, Maryland and Colorado.

The Spectator is a free student newspaper, which has led some in the campus community to question if Leigh’s actions should truly be considered a theft. But Adamson points to other financial losses.

The Spectator contains paid advertisements. Those advertisers expect a certain audience reach when they pay to showcase their ads in the paper. In addition, staff members at The Spectator get paid for their work, which comes from a larger university fund derived from student tuition dollars. Finally, stealing newspapers also steals ideas and conversations from the “marketplace of ideas.” This type of theft—that of the campus conversations and deep discussions about community issues—is concerning to Adamson.

“Even if, hypothetically, even if I agreed with the father’s actions in removing the papers, I’ve nonetheless been deprived of hearing that point of view that could actually make my thinking about these issues better,” Adamson said. “They may not change my mind but at least I am being informed of an opposing point of view that allows me to examine my own viewpoints.”

This is not the first time Spectator editions have been stolen from stands. Multiple university employees, including Sundborg, have cited previous incidences of similar occurrences, some of which have allegedly coincided with other accepted students weekends.

As of now, it remains unclear what actions, if any, Leigh will face, and if the university will ever craft a policy that explicitly outlaws the theft of newspapers.

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