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Oxford American locks out employees at UCA office

Posted: July 13, 2012 - 8:21pm

The Oxford American magazine employees were locked out of their offices at Old Main at the University of Central Arkansas at 5:29 p.m. Wednesday night at the request of publisher Warwick Sabin.

“Things happened quickly and unexpectedly,” Sabin said Friday.

Sabin was not at UCA when the offices were closed, but he made the phone call.

According to a dispatch record, founder and editor Marc Smirnoff and Carol Ann Fitzgerald, managing editor and art editor, are part of an internal investigation.

Reached by phone Friday, Sabin said the office is closed but all employees and interns are working either from at home or going to the Little Rock office, which remains open.

“Because this is a personnel matter, there is very little that can be said at this time,” Sabin said.

Police are not involved in the investigation, which is being done by the magazine’s attorneys, he said. The magazine recently finished a financial audit showing the magazine is in good standing, but the audit is not related to the investigation, Sabin said.

The closing of the UCA office affected three full-time employees and five interns. The office will be closed throughout the investigation, but Sabin said he hoped to reopen as soon as possible.

“Nobody knows what is going to happen,” Sabin said. “Everybody is proceeding as best we can.”

UCA is not involved in the investigation and is not impacted by the closing, spokeswoman Venita Jenkins said. University police were only charged with securing the doors and clearing the offices and the physical plant changed the locks because the building belongs to UCA, said Arch Jones, organizational and community services director at UCA.

A report filed in the dispatch log said, in part:

“Oxford American employees are under an internal investigation Marc Smirnoff and Carol Ann Fitzgerald regarding inappropriate conduct ... [T]hey were informed today [Wednesday] to meet with attorneys in Little Rock tomorrow [Thursday] Mr. Smirnoff was very upset and agitated and Mr. Sabin notified our department to assist in clearing the building.”

The UCA Physical Plant changed the locks on rooms 106, 107 and 108. Fitgerald was just leaving room 107 when the officers arrived, but she left Old Main shortly thereafter, according to the dispatch log.

Sabin would not comment on whether there was a meeting with attorneys Thursday. He repeatedly said he could say little because of the investigation.

Attempts to contact Smirnoff and Fitzgerald were not successful Friday afternoon.

The Oxford American is a national magazine dedicated to Southern writing that documents “the complexity and vitality of the American South,” according to its website. It began publication in Oxford, Miss., in 1992, moved to Arkansas around 2001 and then moved to UCA and became a nonprofit in 2004.

The next edition is set to come out Sept. 1.

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