Junior College Confidential

"Ludicrous" expose brings charges of yellow journalism against retired Scottsdale media professor

Promotional materials for Jim Martin's nonfiction expose on the Maricopa Community College District promise the book "reads like fiction."

That's precisely the trouble, say many of the "characters" in the self-published screed by Martin, who recently ended his 18-year stint as a journalism instructor at Scottsdale Community College. It's not available in bookstores yet, but Policies of Deceit in Our Public Schools and Universities is already on the "must read" list for administrators at the community-college district and other governing bodies mentioned in the book.

It's sent many racing for libel lawyers, although, so far, no one interviewed for this story intends to pursue a case against Martin.

"If I was a journalist and I picked up this book and read it, I'd have a hard time believing it," Martin readily admits, over a recent lunch of soup and salad at a Scottsdale restaurant. He says he won't be surprised if he's sued, but isn't concerned.

Among other incredible charges, the book alleges that MCCD Chancellor Paul Elsner was involved in the murder of a local activist. Martin also claims a South Mountain Community College professor's life was threatened when he refused to change the grade of a student who was having sex with the college's dean.

It would take months to thoroughly research each of the claims made in the 320-page book, but if the devil's in the details, Martin's credibility is already in flames. A quick perusal of the book reveals inaccuracies with regard to the most basic of journalistic tasks: dates, places and names.

For example, the book's main character, a Chattanooga, Tennessee, public-policy guru living in Atlanta, is identified as Canadian.

Paul Elsner patently denies Martin's charges, but defends his right to make them.

"In this country, people get to write this kind of stuff," Elsner says. "They're entitled to their opinions. They can write pretty much what they want. He has done that. Some of it's pretty slanderous, but what are you going to do about it?"

To the point, what is Elsner going to do about it?
"Nothing."
That's the unanimous reply of those contacted for this story.

Rick DeGraw, Elsner's executive assistant and one of the book's targets, says he spoke with First Amendment attorneys Paul Eckstein and Dan Barr, who told him he has a poor case because he would be legally defined as a public figure, making it more difficult to prove a libel case.

DeGraw is furious. He points to the narrative describing his employment with the district; it's full of inaccuracies.

"The problem is, he [Martin] makes so many criminal charges you could spend your life trying to find all the paperwork on this," says DeGraw. "I've never met the man. I've never spoken to him. I'd never heard of him before this crap came out. . . . You know what I'm most upset about? That somebody that's as bad a writer and as bad a researcher as this guy was acting as a journalism professor at one of our colleges."

Martin blames the woes of the local community-college system on a public-policy method called "policy governance," touted by John Carver (the one who really lives in Atlanta) in his book Boards That Make a Difference. Policy governance suggests that some duties be ceded to a chief executive, while the board takes a limited--but involved--role.

"I didn't know whether to laugh or to get mad," says Carver, adding that he's never had anything to do with MCCD and certainly has never heard of Jim Martin. (District officials have implemented and touted some of Carver's ideals.) "The book has more misquotes and misconstructions in one book than I've ever seen."

Charlie Herf, a Phoenix attorney mentioned in the book in connection to a case involving Glendale Elementary School District, says Martin mischaracterizes discussions that took place in the board's executive sessions. Herf says he is unable, legally, to disclose the true nature of the discussions.

He says, "The fact that Mr. Martin chose to be in effect a co-conspirator with illegal conduct by revealing executive-session conversations is his value system . . . and it wouldn't be mine."

Art DeCabooter, president of Scottsdale Community College--where Martin taught and acted as advisor to the school newspaper, Campus News, until his retirement in May 1997--calls the book "a sad commentary on his [Martin's] professional life."

DeCabooter describes Martin's performance at SCC as "fair," adding that Policies of Deceit "looked like our old campus newspaper with a cover on it . . . bordering on the false to ludicrous."

His only reaction to the book, says DeCabooter--who claims he hasn't bothered to read it--is "just laughter."

"There's not a ripple on [the Scottsdale Community College] campus," he says. "People know him [Martin] and just totally disregard it."

Before coming to Scottsdale, Martin says he covered general assignment, police and investigative beats for the Daily News in Amarillo, Texas, and worked in public affairs for the Waukegan News-Sun in Illinois. He says he spent three years researching and writing Policies of Deceit.

Martin has volunteered to speak to any parent-teacher organization that will have him, and is busy trying to get a chapter of his book posted on the Internet. Policies of Deceit retails for $16, and is available from Mustang Publishing Co. at 1-800-300-8304.

What's next? Martin is buoyed by his relative success; in the first two weeks, his sales topped $1,000. (Of course, the majority of the purchases were made by Maricopa Community College District personnel.)

Martin's considering a sequel.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

 
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