WGA West presidential candidate Phyllis Nagy has gotten out in front a series of anonymous critics of her teaching methods and track record as head of the UCLA screenwriting program. Following inquiries from Deadline that were fueled by interviews with a dozen former students and faculty members, Nagy has addressed allegations that her methods can be divisive and polarizing.
None of the students Deadline interviewed would speak for the the record, so it is difficult to bare some of the specifics of their complaints. But there is a common theme in their criticism of Nagy’s teaching style. “It was a divisive atmosphere,” said a former student in the screenwriting program. “Many students have had incredibly difficult experiences.” The former students said they would not speak for the record for fear it might haunt them in their writing careers. “People are fearful. They have fear for their careers if they speak up. That’s definitely a concern among students.”
Deadline reached out to Nagy about all this a week ago. While she hasn’t directly responded to an interview request, today she took the unusual step of defending her record and addressing the rumors in a communique sent directly to members of WGA ticket. Her spokesperson also arranged interviews with supporters of Nagy’s teaching methods who vouched for her character. (According to Nagy, those willing to speak on the record in her defense include four recent graduates.) All this is significant because Nagy is running for WGA President against incumbent David A. Goodman, in an election that will be decided September 16. Nagy threw her hat in the ring because of disagreements over how Goodman has handled the 115-day dispute with the ATA and Big Four Agencies over packaging and agency-affiliated production companies.
The tone of her response to her running mates indicates a concern that the timing of these complaints by Nagy’s anonymous critics could undermine the momentum of a candidacy that has drawn the support of over 300 TV and film writers/showrunners who disagree with the way WGA leadership is handling the ongoing dispute with agents.
Among the supporters who lined up to provide positive testimonials is UCLA department co-chair Kathleen McHugh. She called Nagy “an outstanding talent and has hit the ground running at UCLA and works as hard as anyone here. She’s a team player. She jumps in, does the work, and doesn’t complain. She’s just outstanding across the board in every area.”
Screenwriter George Huang, who was hired at the school last year at the same time as Nagy, said: “Phyllis and I were tasked to revamp the whole program. Phyllis took on that challenge. I’ve never seen anyone with as much capacity for work as she has. She’s tireless. She’s a workhorse. Is she tough? Yes. But is she fair? Absolutely yes. I imagine she might rub some people the wrong way, but the program needed to be updated, and she has done that. She’s done a remarkable job. I completely endorse her candidacy. Having seen what she’s done with the UCLA program, I think she would do remarkable things for the guild.”
Here is Nagy’s letter, posted on the WGA Forward Together site launched by WGA officer and board candidates running on a platform seeking a strategy change.
“I wanted to write to you about a topic of some concern and importance to me and our campaign. Some of you may be aware that there have been some rumors about my conduct as a Professor and Area Head of the Master of Fine Arts Screenwriting (SCR) Program at UCLA.
“A recently-graduated student filed an allegation of discrimination and harassment against me prior to her graduation in June 2019. I never taught this student and have not had any direct communication with her in almost a year. Unfortunately, this student has a troubled history of repeatedly threatening to sue both faculty and students in the school.
“As mandated by state law for all UC colleges and universities whenever there is a complaint of any kind, I met with an independent investigator earlier this summer (prior to my decision to run for WGA office). During a two-hour interview with the investigator, we discussed each aspect of the student’s allegations, and I presented written evidence to refute every one of them.
“This was not a formal investigation: it was an assessment of a complaint. There are two outcomes of such assessments: 1.) The Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) determines that the facts demand a formal investigation. 2.) The DPO issues an “outcome letter,” which means that there will be no recommendation of a formal investigation and that no further action will be taken.
“On Monday, August 5, the DPO issued an “outcome letter” which formally closes this matter. There is nothing to these allegations, and there never was.
“Unfortunately, this same student, along with, we believe, a lecturer in the SCR program whose power base disappeared when I was hired, a former SCR program lecturer who was effectively fired for cause in Winter 2019, and a small group of acolytes weaponized by these lecturers, have approached members of the media to pitch a story about me. Every last one of them has requested anonymity in the press.
“We have reason to believe that the primary ‘evidence’ that they are using are the claims of this one student, which was nullified by the ‘outcome letter.’ At best, they are a disgruntled group who did not appreciate the changes the Co-Chair and I made to a moribund SCR program. At worst, they are malevolent actors who have been systematically attacking me and my colleagues over the last 18 months. Either way, they clearly saw an opportunity to ramp up a public attack because of this election. And it is possible that our opponents may seek to use this situation for their political advantage. If so, that is reprehensible and something that we should not allow to succeed.
“Should any media outlet proceed with this article, my team, spearheaded by Annalee Paulo of 42 West, has lined up four recently graduated students from the SCR program, plus the Co-Chair of the Department of Film, TV and Digital Media; the most senior Full Professor in the Film department; and my Full Professor colleague, brought in with me to reform the SCR program, to refute every single one of these allegations. They will all speak on the record, for attribution. Additional strong voices are also willing to speak on background.
“Thank you for your time and support. There is so much at stake – for us and for all of the Guild members we care so much about. If you’d like to reach out to me for further details about any of this, please do. I’m here to answer any of your questions.”