College president threatens to file libel suit against N.Y. student paper

NEW YORK — The editors of the Queens College student newspaperdelayed distribution of their weekly issue in December after administratorsthreatened to sue the paper for libel if it published an editorial accusingthe college president of lying.

Avi Muchnick, former editor of The Quad, said the dean of studentscalled him the night before publication and told him President Allen Sessomshad “every intention of suing you and the newspaper.”

“Suing was never likely,” said dean of students Burton Backner. “Allwe were really trying to do was alert them and warn them that they shouldbe careful, and then we backed off.”

Administrators learned about the piece from an article in The NewYork Times that quoted Muchnick discussing the editorial The Quad plannedto run. The editorial criticized Sessoms for lying about the amount offunding the college had raised for a $30 million AIDS research center.

Muchnick read Backner the editorial over the phone at Backner’s request.Backner said he told Muchnick that the president would not be happy withit but that The Quad had to make its own decision.

The editorial accused Sessoms of not being candid about his inabilityto pay for the center and of lying to the media.

“Our student body and faculty have been dragged through this publichumiliation long enough,” the editorial said. “Either get the facts straightor tell better lies.”

The issue, which was slated for distribution on Dec. 9, was delayedwhile The Quad’s executive board discussed whether to distributeit. Four days later, the board decided to distribute it with an insertexplaining the delay and elaborating on the editorial.

The Quad was not sued for libel.