Board of Trustee member harasses students in Thomson

While Winthrop’s fourth presidential candidate, Dr. Jayne Comstock, was meeting students in Thomson cafeteria, vice chair to the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search and Selection Committee, Kathy Bigham, accosted student reporters, Kaitlyn Schallhorn, managing editor of The Johnsonian and Shamira McCray, news editor of The Johnsonian.

McCray is a junior mass communication major.

McCray went up to a member of Winthrop Close-up, Winthrop’s broadcast news station, and was immediately informed by the Close-Up member that Kimberly Faust, executive assistant to the president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, said they were not allowed to ask about a Butler lawsuit against an anonymous blogger because Comstock was legally not allowed to discuss the situation.

Faust then came over to McCray and asked her not to ask Comstock about the blog. She told McCray that  she should be fair in the way she treated and questioned the candidate.

Faust brought Bigham over to McCray to introduce them.  Bigham stressed to McCray that The Johnsonian needed to be fair in questioning and in the way that they handled the candidates.

Bigham questioned McCray about the article that Schallhorn, a senior mass communication and English major, had previously written about the Butler controversy, published in The Johnsonian on Feb. 7. Bigham questioned the credibility of the article’s sources.

McCray then walked off to talk to students and take photos of Comstock interacting with the public for an unrelated article for The Johnsonian. McCray then texted Schallhorn.

Schallhorn arrived in Thomson a few minutes later. Bigham came up to Schallhorn and McCray and continued to stress the importance of asking the same questions to every candidate.

Schallhorn then introduced herself to Bigham as the one who wrote the article regarding the Butler controversy.

While Schallhorn and  McCray were talking to Bigham, Bigham would position herself between the two Johnsonian reporters and Comstock.

While Bigham was speaking with McCray and Schallhorn, McCray’s iPhone was still recording from when she had been attempting to interview students.

When Bigham realized McCray was recording the conversation, she became angry and walked away to speak with Faust.

Schallhorn and McCray then called The Johnsonian’s advisor, Guy Reel. When Reel did not answer, they called Larry Timbs, emeritus associate professor of mass communication of 27 years and former advisor to The Johnsonian of 10 years.

Bigham then approached McCray and asked who her academic advisor was and who she was speaking to on the phone.

McCray told Bigham she was speaking to Timbs, and Bigham took the phone out of McCray’s hand as she said, “Let me talk to him.”

Bigham walked away and began talking to Timbs.  She soon raised her voice and asked very loudly, “This is what you teach your students?”

According to Timbs, McCray called him out of the blue and sounded worried and upset on the phone. Timbs said he was shocked when he heard Bigham on the phone while he was talking to McCray.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Timbs said.

Bigham asked Timbs about the legality of the issue, and Timbs said he informed her that recording someone as long as one party knows is legal in S.C. Bigham told Timbs that the situation would go to Debra Boyd, vice president of academic affairs.  She then asked Timbs about the ethics of the situation and he told her that he taught his students that they should have the obligation to make the interviewees aware of being recorded.

The next day Timbs received a phone call from McCray’s father, Larry McCray in regards to the incident in Thomson.

Timbs said that he later found out that McCray’s phone had been snatched from her hand.

After talking with Timbs, Bigham shoved McCray’s phone back at her.  Bigham then spoke with Faust again.

Bigham’ s voice was loud enough for Schallhorn and McCray to hear her say that Bigham wanted a meeting with “Debra Boyd since the president was busy,” the head of the mass communication department, Bill Click, and McCray’s academic advisor that afternoon.

McCray explained the situation to Timbs, and shortly after, Bigham came over to McCray and told her she would “check the verbiage of the law.”

Bigham then recorded McCray’s full name and her cell phone number. “I’ll be calling you later. We’re scheduling a meeting now,” Bigham said.

Bigham, Faust and Comstock then exited Thomson.

After they left, McCray called Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association (SCPA) to ask about the legality of the situation as well. Rogers said that S.C. is a one-party state in which only one party has to know that a conversation is being recorded.

McCray received a voicemail from Bigham at 12:16 p.m., but the voicemail seemed unintentional as it was Bigham talking in the background to unknown person about the incident.

At this time, no meeting has been called to question McCray’s conduct.

Larry McCray was disappointed in the behavior of Bigham. “Her behavior was shocking. I really disapprove,” Larry McCray said.

Larry McCray said he spoke to Larry Timbs and gained the contact information for other Winthrop officials but has yet to contact them.

Olivia McCray, mother to Shamira McCray, also disapproved of Bigham’s behavior.

“The bottom line was that it was unprofessional,” Olivia McCray said.

Attempts by The Johnsonian to reach Kathy Bigham were unsuccessful.

“I think from the start, the whole situation was unnecessary,” said Shamira McCray. “I should have not been attacked for the outcomes of the story, and my phone should not have been snatched. If I was educated on that law then it seemed like the vice chair of board of trustees should have been educated on it as well. And if she wasn’t ignorant to the law, then the whole thing wouldn’t have gotten out of hand.”

Frances Parrish

Frances served as a staff writer, Science & Tech Editor, copy editor and Editor-in-Chief of The Johnsonian from Fall 2012-Spring 2014. Frances graduated from Winthrop University in Spring 2015.

One thought on “Board of Trustee member harasses students in Thomson

  • February 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Glad you were able to get this off your chest and add it to the pile of inane BS this paper is so fond of publishing.

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