Posts Tagged ‘Campus Newspaper’

Administrators at the University of Utah have threatened to hold the academic records, transcripts, and degrees of nine soon-to-graduate senior staffers at The Daily Utah Chronicle.  The reason: A series of editorials run in the newspaper’s goodbye issue that had a bit of less-than-subtle vulgarity squeezed into their otherwise innocuous words.

As the SPLC reports, “Since 1999, graduating seniors at the Chronicle have organized a yearly send-off prank that involves arranging drop-cap letters to spell out words in their farewell columns. This year, when placed on the page, the column’s drop-caps spelled out ‘c*nt’ and ‘penis.’ The university . . . claimed the editors were in violation of the university’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities for, ‘intentional disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings or university activities,’ and ‘unauthorized or improper use of any university property, equipment, facilities or resources.'”

According to a Deseret News report, the paper’s adviser (who recently resigned, unrelated) voiced his opposition to the wordplay when consulted, calling the term in the screenshot above particularly “indefensible.”  The Chronicle editor in chief has said in response to the brouhaha, “It wasn’t meant to be obscene or pornographic.  It was in poor taste, I’ll give you that, but it was just supposed to be a silly joke.”

My take: It might not be outright pornography, but it is definitely obscene. The students should have known better. And the adviser’s warning should have been heeded. Yet, amid the university’s apparent embarrassment, administrators need to move on. The EIC has apologized. The offending staffers are graduating. The criticisms have been heard. Lesson learned.

Most troubling about the school’s actions is their aim at an independent entity. Chronicle content does not come under administrative control- vulgar column drop-caps included.  As a letter of concern sent to Utah admins. by the SPLC and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) states, “As a public university both legally and morally bound to respect the First Amendment rights of its students, the University of Utah cannot lawfully punish students for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The school is calling the wordplay an “intentional disruption or obstruction” of university activities.  If I was planning an editorial response, my columns’ drop-caps would spell: NO DICE.  This was not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  No one’s academics or extracurriculars were held up by the columns’ printing- except now possibly the students who printed them.  But that is the fault of the school, not the students.  As the paper’s (most recent) adviser stated, “While I don’t defend [the students’] action, I will defend their right to do it forever.”

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The Globe student newspaper at Utah’s Salt Lake Community College is facing a sudden $20,000 budget shortfall and a potential shuttering after student fees allocated for the paper were cut by 50 percent.  (Read about the other major student newspaper-student fees battle currently brewing at Kansas University.)

According to a Deseret News report, a student-run Fees Board suggested the dramatic cut (later approved by the university and a statewide regents board) as part of a larger student fees redistribution that ironically provides additional funding for a campus media center “for student journalists to use film and video.”

One Student Fee Board member told the Deseret News: “The board feels the paper needs to increase readership and run more articles focusing on students before it asks for funding. If the paper can become ‘a publication that students are screaming to pick up off the rack,’ then maybe the college will fulfill the Globe‘s funding request.

My take: No no no. Establishing content quotas or requiring a campus media outlet to ‘scream’ tabloid-style to passersby in order to secure funding sets a dangerous precedent. A paper’s editorial principles or overall tone should not be the catalysts for funding decisions. Seriously, why is a paper that screams better than one that quietly and doggedly reports news worth knowing? And what if a paper’s gung-ho coverage exposing wrongdoing produces the wrong kind of screams? Will there be more funding cuts then?

The irony of this board member’s reasoning is also cringe-inducing. The paper’s budget is being slashed to the point that its survival prospects look bleak- while simultaneously being told to enhance itself tremendously.

To the SLCC Student Fees Board: Want to truly help the Globe? Prop it up with a solid budget, ensure its staff has the training and resources it needs to report, and get out of its way.

And one last parting shot: The school recently earned kudos for being an “enrollment leader” as “the sixth-fastest growing two-year public school in the country.”  Apparently, it is a good time to be at SLCC.  Yet, the campus newspaper, the college’s voice, cannot continue receiving support that equates to only $1 per student?

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A former senior news editor at The Michigan Daily who resigned last year amid allegations of plagiarism is suing the paper and university for “being wrong in their assessment,” failing to afford her the opportunity to defend herself, and triggering related emotional distress.  As the Daily itself reports, the ex-staffer, still a University of Michigan student, is seeking total damages of more than $100,000.

It is a somewhat complicated case, with numerous layers and two main gray areas- the definition of plagiarism and proper university involvement in an editorially-independent student press.

The basics: In a regular feature titled “In Other Ivory Towers,” the Daily provides a brief rundown of what’s happening on campuses nationwide, based on “a compilation of news from sources across the country.” A February 2009 issue contained a “Towers” write-up that included a number of unique phrases and entire sentences that were identical to those appearing in the reports of the original sources.

According to the paper’s editor in chief at the time: “While this particular piece cited these three sources, it inappropriately took complete sentences and phrases verbatim from them without using quotes. This implied the material was paraphrased when, in fact, it was not.”

The lawsuit in PDF form.

In the summons filed on her behalf, the former editor is alleging that no plagiarism occurred because she openly attributed the information to the sources.  The student’s lawyer: “I looked at the dictionary for the definition of plagiarism and it said something to the effect of ‘presenting one’s work as its own.’ I’ve read the article and the whole scope of the article is that it’s addressing and attributing the information, the comments, to the various other campus papers. At no time did I ever interpret that as saying that it was her own work.”

In a personal review of the “Towers” under dispute and the original pieces they cited (check them out: a Diamondback articlea Chronicle of Higher Education news brief, and a Chronicle of Higher Ed full report ironically related to plagiarism), the whole shebang looks less like purposeful plagiarism and more like “laziness and corner cutting” (see page 6 of the summons complaint). Either way, a student attaining a position of senior news editor at a distinguished campus newspaper should know better.

The student states that her resignation and public plagiarism accusations resulted in “emotional distress, humiliation, mortification, embarrassment, ostracism, depression, sleeplessness and anxiety . . . digestive problems, vomiting,” the loss of a scholarship tied to her Daily involvement, temporary withdrawal from school, and a suicide attempt.

And in the final wrinkle to the case, she is not just blaming the Daily for these problems.  The student also alleges, “The University of Michigan had an obligation to oversee the student run newspaper . . . and failed to do so thus endorsing and sanctioning the wrongful treatment of [the former editor].”

It is a hard sell.  The university is involved on at least one level- with the student’s resignation from the paper leading to a loss of a scholarship of some sort.  But the newspaper is financially and editorially independent of the school and has a related oversight board of its own to deal with controversial situations such as this.  As the editor in chief at the time told readers, “We take plagiarism at the Daily very seriously. . . . We hold other campus institutions to this high standard, and we believe we should hold ourselves to the same standard, if not a higher one.”

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The outgoing operations manager of The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia has penned an excellent goodbye editorial worth a glimpse, if nothing else, for its opening comparison.  In a piece headlined simply “Tundra-tested,” Wm. Hunter Tammaro writes:

The Cavalier Daily office is a lot like an Antarctic research base.  No, really. Although a student newspaper and the least-inhabited place on Earth might seem like polar opposites- no pun intended- they actually do share a great many traits. Each is a remote location where few dare to tread. Each has a dedicated group of staffers that spend huge portions of their time there. Each has a management that treats you well to keep you from going insane. And each has native wildlife- be they penguins or cockroaches- that completely lacks fear of humans.

The piece also touches on students’ timeless struggle to balance their academic, familial, social, and journalistic sides:

My roommates deserve to be canonized for putting up with my chronic absence during the day and my frantic working during the night. My family has always been willing to put up with me not being able to visit or going off the radar when my phone stops working underground. My professors over the past year have been incredibly helpful in granting me the inevitable extensions I needed to get anything resembling a decent grade.

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How open should the higher education administration hiring process be? When is a position at a college or university influential enough to warrant public and student press scrutiny of candidates’ remarks while they are on campus?

The Daily Gazette at Swarthmore College recently faced a related student press roadblock.  In late January, the newspaper’s editorial board wrote:

The second candidate for Dean of Students will be speaking at Swarthmore tonight. We encourage you to attend, because you will not be able to read our coverage of the event.  The administration has forbidden the student press, including the Gazette and the Phoenix, from reporting on the candidates for Dean of Student’s chats with students. Their decision denies those students who will not be able to attend tomorrow night’s event any chance at having a say in, or having a clear idea of, which Dean they would like to represent them. We are writing this piece to register our profound disappointment at the administration’s decision, to demonstrate our disagreement with the logic of their position, and to explain to our readers why we have decided to honor the request in the first place.

It is about access, and respecting the student voice.  Open access fights have interestingly been one of the main themes emerging among campus media this semester.  (Example 1.  Example 2.)

Job candidate visits absolutely do require a special set of reporting ethics, as the Gazette explained: “Some of the candidates had not made their candidacy public at their home institution, and it would certainly be unfair if, by reporting on the event, the Gazette jeopardized any of these candidate’s jobs.  Further, the administration was worried that later candidates might gain an advantage over earlier ones by reading press reports, and, presumably, learning more about the ins and outs of the process, and the types of the things the Swarthmore student body liked to hear.”

Both concerns are extremely valid, and an agreement was reached to limit access to reporting on the event to those on campus.  The Gazette admits that an oversight leaving an article on the first candidate’s visit unrestricted led the administration to become extra cautious, stifling student press from providing any coverage for the second candidate’s speech.

It is imperative that parts of job searches at certain levels of a school remain closed.  But even most faculty candidates nowadays teach a mock class or deliver a public research talk that could trigger campus news coverage.  A candidate for dean should not be immune from such scrutiny.  The Gazette‘s argument: “The purpose of student journalism is not to serve the interests of the Dean’s Search Committee, or those of the administration more generally, but to report news that is critical and relevant to the student body. This is one such news story. It is imperative that students learn as much information, from as many sources as possible, about the candidates in contention to represent them as Dean of Students.”

What do you think??

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The dining halls at Syracuse University are at long last deliciously free of student press censorship.  A report in the SU’s Daily Orange (via Paper Trailsconfirms the reversal of a long-held policy by the school’s Food Services allowing distribution of only the Orange in student dining halls.  Food Services staffers did not have a problem with competing pubs, they just did not like the added waste.

Or at least that has been the official word.  The real story is even less appetizing- brought to light by Jerk, a monthly SU student magazine that also sports a blog with a beyond impressive amount of updates.  Jerk editor said she was recently stopped from distributing the current issue of the magazine in a dining hall by a Food Services employee, solely because the employee did not like the content.

Lorraine Branham, the dean of SU’s Newhouse School of Public Communications: “It was clear that it was a policy that wasn’t being enforced for years. This policy was unwritten, unknown and the magazine had distributed (in dining centers) for years. If you actually thought about it, it made no sense. Someone was suddenly making it a problem because of something they saw in the magazine.”

The university chancellor has now publicly confirmed the cancellation of the policy, enabling Jerk and other Orange alternatives to be consumed by interested students.  (Check out a brief video report detailing the Jerk removal incident.)

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A “racial state of emergency” has been declared and funding for all school-supported student media has been frozen at the University of California, San Diego in the immediate aftermath of a racist campus event coupled with a televised racist slur.

Late last week, the editor of the Koala, a controversial UCSD student humor newspaper “everyone loves to hate,” used the phrase “ungrateful n***ers” (the derogatory term for African Americans) while speaking on the publication’s campus television program. The on-air n-word stirred student anger already brewing over a controversial campus party, called the “Compton Cookout,” whose main theme was an overt mockery of Black History Month. (One report: “An invitation to the party urged participants to dress and act like ‘ghetto chicks’ by speaking loudly, starting fights and wearing cheap clothes.”)

Apparently the Koala has a history of, ahem, boundary pushing, on air and in print.  As the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “In years past, Koala TV has been temporarily unplugged at least once for airing pornographic material.  The Koala publication has poked fun at Muslims, Latinos and Asians for years, and has been repeatedly criticized by the administration.”  On its homepage, a current message brazenly makes fun of the brouhaha and the outrage it has sparked, including this faux admonition: “The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout. If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the  name ‘Compton.’   Shame on you.  SHAME.”

The cover of the current Koala issue.

While the UCSD administration attempts to calm an understandably enraged minority student contingent, the student government is irrationally pulling pursestrings- temporarily suspending the school’s student media funding.  Not just funding for the Koala, but 33 student media outlets at the university.

My head cocked to the left in confusion as I read about this action, and I have not yet come across an explanation suitable enough to straighten it back up. As best as I can tell, it seems to be a political maneuver meant to placate angry students by showing their concerns about racism have engendered prompt action, along with being an act of recognition that student media played a part in the current “emergency state.”  As the student government president said, In any game where the players are getting hurt, you hit the pause button.” The problem though is that this pause has terrible free press consequences.

The Guardian, the UCSD student newspaper, which is not funded by the university, penned a fantastic editorial response, noting in part: “Because [the student government president] is aware it’s near impossible to seek immediate alternative funds, he therefore must be aware he is essentially censoring all existing publications. . . . If there’s one thing the American Civil Liberties Union and Vice Chancellor of Student Life Penny Rue (not to mention any good therapist) can agree on, it’s that more speech- not less- is most beneficial to a hurting community.”

Or in other words, to borrow from the Koala‘s current online message: “Shame on you.  SHAME.”

(Note: This is the second free press issue this semester involving UC student governments.  Read about the other one here.)

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