Anne Huot, who is currently in the race for SUNY Plattsburgh president, has been a presidential hopeful since resigning as president of Keene State College in June 2017. Huot’s tenure brought financial troubles, insufficient public relation skills, censorship of the student press and “regime-like” leadership, according to KSC faculty and former student reporters
KSC Associate Journalism Professor Mark Timney described Huot as “a disaster for KSC financially and in terms of public and staff relations,” via an email to Cardinal Points.
Before applying to SUNY Plattsburgh, Huot was one of four presidential finalists at Castleton University in Vermont. Huot withdrew her application after Castleton’s student newspaper, the Castleton Spartan, was contacted by the KSC student newspaper, The Equinox. The Spartan ran a story titled “Huot backs out” that talked about her tenure at KSC Sept. 2017. Huot told the Spartan that her withdrawal had nothing to do with her past at Keene.
In June 2017, Huot was granted $327,225 in severance pay after resigning from KSC despite having three years left on her contract. Huot said her resignation stemmed from “personal and professional reasons,” as reported by The Keene Sentinel—an independently owned newspaper in Keene, New Hampshire.
University System Spokeswoman Tiffany Eddy told the Sentinel the “$327,225 represented Huot’s annual base salary of $285,000 plus $42,225 in a hold back payment from fiscal year 2017.”
KSC faced financial troubles after the USNH Board of Trustees approved a fiscal year 2018 budget with $109.4 million in operating expenses and a $2.4 million deficit that eventually increased by $8.7 million. This led to KSC campus departments not having finalized budgets for the start of the 2017-2018 academic year. KSC administrators cut $7.5 million of the 2018 budget, according to The Keene Sentinel.
Current KSC President Melinda Treadwell who was serving as interim president at the time of Huot’s resignation, told The Keene Sentinel Huot was one of the factors that contributed to the financial shortcoming.
She said KSC campus departments base their 2018 fiscal year planning on the previous year’s allotted budgets. However, Huot submitted a budget proposal to the USNH Board of Trustees that went off of actual spending, which was a lower number.
Treadwell said a decrease in student enrollment for fall 2017 in addition to the budget problem led to $1 million in a reserve fund spent to fill an operational gap on campus, according to The Keene Sentinel. KSC faced reductions in senior administrative positions, cutbacks on consultants and cut backs in professional travel, supplies and general expenses.
Timney said Huot was not open about the college’s budget with the faculty.
“From the time she [became president of KSC], it was very difficult for any of the departments to tell how much money we were going to have or did have in the budget,” Timney said. “It was a constant change about what was happening financially.”
Timney said faculty members were never allowed to see their budgets because of the constant changes.
In addition, he said Huot didn’t know how to deal with KSC’s lack of enrollment. She hired administrators and created programs within the advancement office to help increase enrollment.
“All [the administration] did was spend a lot of money and brought the college nothing back,” Timney said.
He also said instead of solving the enrollment issue at Keene, Huot contributed to it because of her “incompetence of public relations.”
New Hampshire has an annual event called the Pumpkin Festival where residents make as many jack-o’-lanterns as they can in one place every October.
However, MacKenzie Clarke, a former reporter for The Equinox, said the Pumpkin Festival often devolves into college and high school students partaking in drunken antics.
2014’s Pumpkin Festival, which was later nicknamed the Pumpkin Fest Riot, was especially bad, Clarke said.
Students lit a bonfire in the middle of a road and threw beer bottles at each other. A SWAT team was called in to control the scene, but “all hell broke loose,” * ********* said after a participant threw a beer can at a police officer.
The event made national news and was reported by CNN and NBC.
The aftermath of the riot resulted in 170 KSC students being punished, according to THE CHRONICLE of higher education—a newspaper that presents news and jobs for college and university faculty and student affairs professionals. Of those 170 KSC students punished, two were dismissed from the college, nine were suspended for one to three semesters and one facing suspension or expulsion withdrew from the college.
Timney said Huot’s handling of the situation left KSC in a bad light. She refused to listen to public relation consultants and decided to handle it her way. Rumors soon spread about the riot and people outside the school thought students had died. Clarke said there were no deaths at the riot. These rumors contributed to the lack of enrollment, according to Timney who said parents of potential students were questioning KSC’s safety.
Huot held a strong grip on the student press of KSC that made it difficult for The Equinox reporters to access information for articles Timney said.
Huot “set a wall up between information and student media,” he said.
Huot’s policies required any information given by sources had to go through her office and all interviews needed an overseer to sit in.
Huot had KSC Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations Kelly Ricaurte be present for all interviews. Ricaurte declined to comment when emailed by Cardinal Points. When asked about this accusation by the Castleton Spartan, Huot denied this accusation.
She responded to the Spartan 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 your student reporters and the press.”
“Before, administrators of the college were free to talk to student press and public media without that restriction,” Timney said. “[The KSC journalism department] had to hear how hard it was to get information from our student journalists.”
Timney said the journalism department chair and the communications director expressed their discontent with the policy directly to Huot and tried to make a compromise. However, their efforts and concerns were never accommodated under her tenure.
“At first, [Huot’s policy] started out as an annoyance,” former Equinox Reporter Olivia Belanger said. “Eventually, we started being blatantly ignored by people who have spoken with [The Equinox] for multiple interviews in the past.”
Belanger said The Equinox had difficulties reporting on a story about a KSC cheerleading coach leaving. In the past, the coach was a long-time advocate for the college’s newspaper. However, he was afraid to go on the record because of Huot.
KSC Journalism Professor and Advisor to The Equinox Julio Del Sesto said the sources who responded to reporters would send “almost scripted-type emails.”
“That’s when we started really seeing the significant barrier between being fair and complete with our reporting,” Belanger said.
Belanger said faculty members would refuse interviews with her and other reporters because they feared for their jobs. Timney said Huot’s administration resembled a regime. Faculty members who were in charge of particular communities or organizations were suddenly taken out of their position if they opposed Huot.
“[Faculty members] were afraid of her. Everyone was,” Timney said. “She was polite on the surface, but it became obvious that if you were not on her right side, you would be in trouble. If you dared to step out of her guidelines, you’d risk things that would happen in regimes if you crossed the leader.”
Crae Messer, former managing executive editor for The Equinox, said the staff ran an editorial May 3, 2017, that highlighted the hardships they faced with reporting because of Huot’s policies.
Students of The Equinox wrote: “Student journalists work hard and diligently to provide a service and produce content for students and the campus community. The Equinox follows a strict code of ethics, and its mission is to be ‘fair, accurate and complete.’ With that in mind,” the editorial continued, “interviews are essential to the news-gathering process and help to provide balanced and informed content. Answers given during an interview help shape the story. However, when student journalists are denied the right to interview administrative, faculty and staff members, it makes it very difficult for student journalists to do their jobs and cover all needed bases for a fair story. When public relations’ policies and processes create barriers for the student press, vital stakeholders and information cannot be included, thus making for an incomplete product.”
The editorial received the support of KSC faculty May 4, 2017, through a letter to the editor, according to an article by The Student Press Law Center, a non-profit organization in the United States that aims to protect press freedom rights for student journalists at high school and university student newspapers.
Huot met with the journalism faculty May 12, 2017, where she was presented with a draft policy on how KSC should deal with the press. Huot refused to sign it but planned to meet with journalism faculty and students again in August 2017. That meeting never happened because of Huot’s resignation in June.
Clarke said it was hard being a student journalist while having Huot as president. She said a college president should support all students and their majors.
“Anne Huot was absolutely terrible for Keene State journalism,” Clarke said. “I think it’s important for students to not have Anne Huot as president because she will deny comments. She will do everything in her power to make herself look good.”
Over the course of five weeks, Cardinal Points has attempted to contacted Huot through various methods to no avail.