How What West Chester Did to Kim Bridgford Got Me into Politics

what west chester did to kim bridgford
The Poetry Center, West Chester University

Over the course of my campaign and its aftermath, particularly in the light of what my Republican opponents did (and continue to do) to me, many people have asked me why I decided to run for office. I typically answer that I am a crusader for truth, transparency, and justice, which begs the question of what turned me into that crusader. The answer to this question is, I became a crusader because of what West Chester did to Kim Bridgford.

After Kim became director of the West Chester Poetry Center and Conference in 2010, she asked me to take over the daily running of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. This put us into frequent correspondence, and we became friends. Hence I was among the first to learn when, on September 15th 2014, she was removed from her position, asked to collect her things and leave the Poetry Center (which she was thereafter barred from entering) and reassigned to full time teaching.

I became one of Kim’s most vocal defenders as the West Chester administration and its advocates conspired to give the impression that her reassignment was her fault for being a poor fundraiser (she wasn’t), or perhaps for moving the Poetry Conference too far from its original mission (She was employed to increase diversity and broaden the conference’s appeal.)

During my defense of Kim, my arguments were dismissed as lies, and I was not only regularly told to be quiet, but also frequently belittled and insulted online, mostly by men. It was great practice for facing down the three male incumbent Republican members of Hainesport Township Committee!

The real reason for Kim’s reassignment was that she had discovered financial irregularities under her predecessor as Director, Mike Peich, and when she brought those to the attention of the administrators, they chose to remove her and stage a cover up instead of investigating. Every time I suggested this, however, I was castigated for sullying the reputation of Mike Peich without being able to verify my claims. Unfortunately, Kim was at that time unable to speak publicly about the issues.

Kim and I went on (along with original Executive Board Members Natalie Gerber, Cherise Pollard, and Kat Gilbert) to create and run Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference, now in its third successful year. The West Chester Poetry Conference came back under the Directorship of Sam Gwynn after taking a year’s hiatus in 2015, and an uneasy truce has prevailed at West Chester.

But recently West Chester added insult to injury by engaging Baker Tilly, a firm of accountants, to conduct a financial assessment of the Poetry Center (which Kim’s supporters had demanded), but only covering the years of Kim’s tenure as Director. This financial review, while finding no fault, contains damaging and untrue allegations which Kim has now been forced to refute legally and publicly. The letter from Kim’s lawyer states this:

For 16 years, Prof. Peich directed the center with no accountability, no reporting, and no institutional oversight whatsoever. During that time he drained the six-figure Ahmanson Fund, without notifying any authority, and without being called upon to report his activities.

It concludes:

Prof. Peich’s 16-year wasting spree had been enabled by a passive university and foundation. Dr. Bridgford stepped into a situation not of her own making and did her best to rectify it….The report is unfair to her and protective of those who should be held accountable.

This letter has today been circulated among the faculty of the English department at West Chester University, and finally I am in a position to support what I have been saying all along about the events of September 2014. Truth, transparency and justice are served.

Meanwhile my fight against West Chester exposed many truths I had been ignoring for too long: that many men still attempt to dominate and belittle women, that power corrupts, that those in power will do anything to conceal inconvenient truths, and that it is always the little guy who is exploited. With my social conscience newly awoken, I looked around and I saw examples of this happening very close to home.

And that is why I ran for Hainesport Township Committee.

24 Comments

  1. Ian MacConachie

    I’m glad the real truth about Kim Bridgford’s dismissal is finally coming out. I wonder why West Chester University was disinclined to look into the question of what Professor Peich did with all those unaccounted-for funds.

    It would be even more interesting to learn why certain persons at a well-known on-line poetry discussion group go into a blood-rage whenever the question of Peich’s financial activities at the West Chester Poetry Conference is raised. Are they afraid of something?

    • Anna_Evans

      Thanks for commenting here, Ian, as I have no desire to engage with the angry Eratosphereans. I posted the link because many people still believe WCU’s spin about Kim (and it is now on their website.) In my experience lawyers are extremely cautious about putting anything in writing they aren’t sure of, so I am confident this new information about Peich draining the Ahmanson fund is accurate. As for why they react like that, Cantor went to all the Peich conferences, so he would have observed the wastefulness (There are stories of $100 bottles of wine, for example) first hand.

  2. Ian MacConachie

    Well, it’s typical of Eratosphere to shut down discussion whenever anything cuts too close to the bone. There’s an old-boy network of long-time members at the site who seem to be glandularly fanatical about protecting Peich’s reputation. After the revelations about the Ahmanson Fund, there isn’t much left of it to protect. Hence the frantic and sudden shutdown of discussion there.

    • Jayne Osborn

      Hello Ian,
      May I say, as one of the Administrators at Eratosphere (and in a genuinely friendly manner!) that nothing is ”typical” of the site, particularly concerning this matter.
      Members of Eratosphere all have their own opinions, based on their personal experience and knowledge; we have no control over that, and members exist in ”both camps” on this issue.
      As for me, I am completely impartial. I don’t know Kim or Mike, but I closed Anna’s latest thread purely because it was very likely to get ugly again, and there’s nothing to gain by that, for anyone! Most of what’s likely to be said has been said before.
      The ”old boy network” of which you speak may well exist – but that’s a few people amongst 1000s of members. Please don’t tar Eratosphere en masse as being ”typical” of supporting Mike Peich and not Kim Bridgford. It is simply not the case! The vast majority of members are not involved at all in this debate.
      I sincerely hope a satisfactory outcome will eventually emerge, for all concerned.
      Best regards,
      Jayne Osborn

  3. Ian MacConachie

    I don’t doubt your honesty and good will for an instant, and I respect your desire to avoid an embittering dispute at your website. But how can a “satisfactory outcome… eventually emerge for all involved” if there is no discussion of the issues? Are you saying that it should just be left to the lawyers?

    Disputes that touch upon the possible peculation of funds are always nasty, by nature. But worse than that is the blatant attempt to cover up peculation by punishing an innocent party who simply asked a question about it! That’s what West Chester University seems to have done to Kim Bridgford,

    The emptying of the Ahmanson Fund, the one-hundred-dollar bottles of wine, and the possible diversion of conference monies to Prof. Peich’s expensive pet project of the Aralia Press fine printings all need to be explored and explained, not dismissed as ancient history.

  4. Anna_Evans

    To Ian’s point (and it also addresses what Mike Cantor said on the ‘Sphere) there is no satisfactory outcome as long as WCU is still publicly blaming Kim for Mike Peich’s misdeeds, and people like Mike Cantor are still calling my defense of Kim “lies.”

  5. Jayne Osborn

    Hello again, Ian,
    Thank you for your response to my post. I suppose what I meant by hoping for ”a satisfactory outcome” is that the truth will eventually prevail.
    Regarding discussion of the issues, if it’s a legal matter and lawyers are already involved, then I’m guessing (to answer your question)that, Yes, it will have to be sorted out by them.
    I posted here to respectfully point out that your previous comment “It’s typical of Eratosphere to shut down discussion . . .” was rather unfair, and I wished to set the record straight. It has already been discussed at great length. Blame WCU for this, but not Eratosphere, please!

  6. Ian MacConachie

    Whether Eratosphere continues or shuts off discussion of the question is of no real importance. But the subject will continue to be debated here, as long as West Chester University and its bureaucrats persist in deflecting attention away from Prof. Peich’s directorship, while blaming Prof. Bridgford for imaginary faults and misdemeanors.

    If the old-boy network at Eratosphere doesn’t want to continue debating, that’s fine. But five’ll get you ten that they won’t be able to resist coming here to scream if their precious Peich is impugned.

    • Anna_Evans

      Unfortunately I disagree, Ian. They managed to get the place where the debate would be seen by their constituents to close it down, and they are banking on the fact that people won’t see it here on my blog, so no need to engage. Basically they just want me to shut up and go away, as they always have. I can say outright HERE: Peich was arguably a crook and West Chester conspired to cover it up, deliberately damaging Kim’s reputation as they did so, and I doubt anyone will take issue.

    • Thomas Jardine

      Anyone remember this? Quotes by the men on eratosphere awhile back: now the same gang of men has moved to Westchester.

      From the erato thread, Annie Finch, Women’s Work: The Poetic Justice Forum, I clipped phrases as an experiment – not to argue issues – but to listen to the process of the secret language of males – as if listening through a hidden microphone which wasn’t working properly and missed much of the “arguments.” Not taking sides, not being judgmental, not anything but listening to the use of language may be enlightening.

      Sorry, girls, but I just don’t buy this stuff about suppression of female poets.
      I don’t doubt the publication figures, but there are other interpretations available …
      Quality is quality is quality, and I don’t care what …
      And I don’t believe that the majority of editors ….
      …I do not believe that editors ask …..
      When I see stuff by Dickinson, or Sylvia Plath or Gwen Harwood, I can ….
      I really don’t believe that …..
      Get real, girls – get good or get out …
      I think you got some ‘splainin’ to do.
      It’s wrong, or perhaps merely silly, to pigeonhole …
      And it’s not as if I don’t know what …
      It almost leads one to conclude that Annie Finch has an agenda.
      All you have done is to provide more evidence of the gender war …
      Would a Journal of Men’s Poetry even be allowed by today’s standards? Here is a case where men are excluded deliberately by the magazine’s submission standards, not by a some kind covert discriminatory principle.
      But David, don’t you know the answer to that one by now?
      But I believe that women with guts and talent have always managed to have their say.
      Are you suggesting that she was a mere “token” woman poet …
      impossible in the past for a woman driven by genius or strong talent to find the necessary …
      gender bias plays no role whatsoever in the selection of poems …
      If you want a more gender-balanced Raintown–send us some stuff!
      I think this is due to the fact that more often than not, women are less interested in seeing their work in print than men are.
      Let’s put it this way: if you …

  7. Ian MacConachie

    I had intended to let this matter drop after my last post, but today a friend informed me that Jayne Osborne has once again censored discussion of a controversial nature at one of Eratosphere’s threads, by deleting his comments while allowing those of his opponents to remain.

    So, despite Ms. Osborne’s protestations of impartiality and lack of bias, it would seem that there is one set of rules for favored persons at Eratosphere, and another set for everyone else.

    How does this relate to the Kim Bridgford question? Well, there is a group of persons at the website (mostly male, it would seem), who have a vested interest in sweeping the case of Prof. Bridgford’s firing under the rug for all time. The fact that one of the strongest arguers in favor of not crediting or even exploring any charge at all made against West Chester University has now conveniently become the new director of that school’s Poetry Conference is suggestive. So is the fact that one of the most vociferous ranters against the injustice of Bridgford’s firing (he even posted a furious letter that he wrote to the school about the matter, refusing to have anything further to do with their conference) is now happily ensconced as an official participant in that same West Chester conference. I guess the Vicar of Bray is alive and kicking.

    • Anna_Evans

      Thank you, Ian, for continuing to express your outrage at the differential treatment you describe. I went to Eratosphere but couldn’t find the thread you refer to? Perhaps you could send me a separate link? I recognize Sam Gwynn as the new Director of the Conference who was defensive of WCU (and I have made the same observation) but I’m not sure who the other person you are subtweeting here (the vociferous ranter) is? Again, perhaps you could be clearer? There is minimal censorship here on my blog comments but if you would rather not state a name in public please email me at evnsanna@comcast.net. Thanks!

      • Ian MacConachie

        Yes, of course I was referring to R.S. Gwynn. The other person is Quincy Lehr, who expressed outrage at Prof. Bridgford’s firing and posted his angry letter to WCU at Eratosphere, proudly declaiming that he would never support the WCU Conference again or make any donation to the school. But now you can see that he is scheduled to chair a panel at the 2017 WCU Conference on June 8. I believe he was also present at the 2016 Conference, though I don’t have that year’s schedule at hand. How quickly he changed his mind!

        So, R.S. Gwynn profited by the removal of Kim Bridgford from her position, and was none too anxious for any public examination of the reasons for her dismissal. On the other hand, Quincy Lehr seems simply to have trimmed his sails to take advantage of the prevailing winds. But I expect that both of them have some virtue-encrusted explanation for their behavior.

        • Anna_Evans

          I am currently at the AWP Bookfair in DC with Kim Bridgford, promoting Poetry by the Sea, and strangely enough we were talking about this yesterday. It’s not just Quincy, although he may have been the loudest on Eratosphere. The challenge for us is that Sam Gwynn had a huge budget last year to enable him to “buy” people to come to the conference. I don’t know if he does this year. Kim and I simply can’t afford to pay anyone to come other than faculty and featured readers, although we do offer some scholarships. But people who are offered money are often able to redefine their world views to enable them to accept it, alas.

  8. Ian MacConachie

    West Chester University was stung by the unexpectedly harsh reaction that followed Kim Bridgford’s very sudden dismissal. It surprised them, and the one thing academia hates and fears most is adverse publicity.

    So quite naturally R.S. Gwynn was given access to a large amount of cash to lure as many persons as possible to the 2016 conference, an act which WCU assumed (quite correctly, as it turned out) would smooth a lot of ruffled feathers and reconcile angry poets.

    In fact WCU’s entire strategy, in retrospect, seems to have been exactly that of the higher levels of organized crime: “Use muscle hard and fast, and then spread cash widely and lavishly to win back the loyalty of the disaffected.”

    And now, the basic Party Line being spread is that “Isn’t it all so marvelous? We have two excellent conferences instead of just one!” And in this way (WCU hopes) everybody will forget that a hit took place.

    • Anna_Evans

      I hope you aren’t implying that Ian is a fake person invented by either myself or Kim Bridgford, Q, because it’s simply not true. Kim and I just don’t do that sort of thing.

  9. Quincy Lehr

    I didn’t figure Ian was you or Kim, no. I figured Ian was someone else operating under a pseudonym. The name didn’t ring a bell, and there’s a long internet tradition of… let’s say screen names. Maybe it’s a real name. Still my special friend in any case.

  10. Ian MacConachie

    It’s a nice little song, but Quincy Lehr has still not given us his virtue-encrusted explanation of why his righteous indignation against West Chester University suddenly turned into benign acceptance, followed by attendance as a panelist at the WCU Poetry Conference in 2016 and 2017.

    Did R.S. Gwynn perhaps provide enough cash to generate this Road-to-Damascus conversion? Just askin’.

    • Anna_Evans

      I think it’s a little unfair to single Q out from all the other poets in this instance. My understanding is that Sam doled out money to pretty much everyone last year. And poets are poor. Plus Q was a Poet-In-Residence in 2016, which is typically a paid role at any conference.

      On the other hand it’s no secret that I was disappointed when there wasn’t more fierce loyalty to Kim from many people once Sam showed up with the West Chester check book.

      But each of us gets to make personal choices about such things and justify them to our consciences accordingly.

    • Quincy Lehr

      I’m pretty sure I owe no one a blow-by-blow account of how my views evolved, and I learned quite quickly that

      1. Doing so is virtually guaranteed to piss people off. In all factions.

      2. There are other ways of pissing people off that are way more fun.

      You’re still my special friend, “Ian”!

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