MARYLAND — College Media Advisers sent a formal letter to MountSt. Mary’s College President George Houston in June, saying the schoolhas 30 days to make amends with the adviser to the student newspaper, TheMountain Echo.
If the school is unable to reach a resolution within the 30-day timeframe, CMA will likely censure the college. Censure is an official reprimandthat includes being considered “hostile toward those professionals it employsto advise the student press,” CMA officials said in their letter.
A CMA investigation into the college’s treatment of Echo adviserWilliam Lawbaugh found that Lawbaugh had been “punished by his supervisorsat Mount Saint Mary’s College for his refusal to prior review the studentnewspaper and thereby control and censor the paper’s content.”
Lawbaugh said he asked CMA for help after Provost Carol Hinds withheldhis yearly raise and sent him a letter of reprimand for failing to be a”responsible teacher of journalism.”
“She wants me to censor, and I decline to do that so we don’t know what’sgoing to happen here,” Lawbaugh said.
But college officials say Lawbaugh is being reprimanded for failingto exercise control over the newspaper’s budget.
Administrators criticized Lawbaugh for allowing student editors to takecommissions from advertising sales without permission of school officials,a practice editors began after seeing scholarships for newspaper editorscut in recent years.
Lawbaugh said when the scholarships were cut, Dean William Craft, headof the school’s media council, told student editors that they should become”entrepreneurial and raise their own scholarship money through advertisingand subscriptions,” according to Lawbaugh.
But April Nolan, a St. Mary’s spokeswoman, said the student editorsshould have gotten permission from college officials before they startedtaking commission on their advertising sales.
“[Dr. Lawbaugh’s] been saying it’s standard practice for people whoare working for newspapers to receive commissions from ads,” Nolan said.”I think that’s a little bit of spin … It was a very messed-up way ofhandling the finances, and I think the provost holds the adviser accountablefor controlling those finances.”
The greatest amount of money earned over the semester was $200 by theeditor in chief. Lawbaugh said the other eight editorial board membersreceived $20 to $30 per issue.
Even though school officials have said their only problem with the Echo andLawbaugh is financial, the administration has come out publicly againstthe content and management of the publication. In her official letter ofreprimand to Lawbaugh, Hinds said the adviser needs to take a more activerole in the paper prior to publication.
“I will not sit here and deny to you that there are issues with theinstitution’s administration disagreeing with the content,” Nolan said.”The president is irate about the content. He doesn’t think it’s alwaysappropriate. He doesn’t think our students are being taught good journalismpractice.”
Part of the problem may be that there is no formal job description forthe newspaper adviser at the college, Nolan said. CMA officials said theywill help write one with input from Lawbaugh and college administrators.
“Simply, I think what causes some problems sometimes is you come intoa position with a certain set of understandings about the way that jobis going to work-sometimes those things are written and sometimes they’renot,” said Kathy Lawrence, CMA adviser advocate. “I think that if therewere a written job description that says you are responsible for A, B,C, D and E, then the problem wouldn’t have originated in the first place.”