Thieves attempting to silence press steal student newspapers at 5 campuses

The student newspaper staff at Southwest State University in Marshall,Minn., suspects its entire press run was stolen by a religious organizationunhappy with several letters to the editor that bashed the organizationfor forcing its views on the campus community.

Staff members at The Impact said they think all 1,500 copiesof the Nov. 9 issue were stolen Nov. 10 and Nov. 13 by one of the campusísChristian organizations because the paper previously ran a letter to theeditor that criticized the groups for plastering their message across thecampus.

In the Sept. 28 issue of The Impact, Jef Kolnick, an associatehistory professor, wrote a letter to the editor explaining his distastefor what he called “the increasingly aggressive tone of evangelism” fromseveral Christian organizations on campus that heavily propagated theirbeliefs in signs all over the school grounds.

The president of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship replied to Kolnick’sletter in the next issue with a letter to the editor saying that althoughthe organization was sorry if it offended anyone, it had a constitutionallyprotected right to relay its thoughts to the community.

The Nov. 9 issue contained yet another letter about religious postingson campus written by an associate English professor who argued that thegroups’ postings were excessive. The letter contended that the presidentof the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship misunderstood Kolnick’s point,which he said had nothing to do with constitutional rights, and accusedChristian organizations of hiding behind the Constitution whenever theyare challenged.

Ruthe Thompson, adviser to The Impact, said there were two otherunrelated editorials written by professors this semester that might haveupset some people, but she said the staff believes one of the religiousorganizations is the culprit. The staff informed campus security of thethefts, but so far there have been no leads. None of the papers have beenrecovered, and no one has been questioned.

Rumors circulated around Clemson Universityís campus afterthe theft of 7,000 to 8,000 copies of a 12,000-paper press run on Oct.13, pointing the finger at readers angered by several of the issueíscontroversial articles.

The Tiger’s homecoming issue contained an article on NationalComing Out Week publicizing the success of the gay and lesbian celebration,as well as an article describing four murder investigations by local policedepartments involving Clemson students in the past eight years.

Phil Caston, editor of The Tiger, said the South Carolina universityis a very conservative school and that the Coming Out Day celebrationsoffended some students who may have retaliated by stealing the papers.

Caston said the lengthy feature article on the unsolved Clemson studentmurders, which was intentionally printed in the homecoming issue to informparents in town for parentsí weekend, could have angered the administration.But Joy Smith, dean of student life, assured Caston that no administratorswould have stolen newspapers to make the campus seem safer to visitingparents.

Caston added that police have not ruled out the possibility that thetheft was committed as a prank by an organization on campus during thefloat-building activities for the homecoming parade.

“The list of suspects is a mile long,” Caston said, adding that thenewspaper posted a $100 reward to the campus community for informationrelating to the theft, but no leads have ensued.

At Miami Dade Community College’s North Campus, almost the entire3,500-paper press run of the campus newspaper was confiscated by the collegepresident — who said he was upset over spelling and grammatical errorsin the paper.

Yanira Sotolongo-Cuzan, editor of The Falcon Times, said shefelt the president’s attempt to silence the paper may have been motivatedby an article that criticized the schoolís lack of handicap accessas well as a story that humorously attacked the Miami, Fla., school’s lackof organization on the first day of classes.

Castell Bryant, president of the North Campus branch, demanded thatthe newspaper staff reprint the issue with corrections. Sotolongo-Cuzansaid she told Bryant that he had no right to demand anything.

Sotolongo-Cuzan said she met with the district president for the college,who subsequently forced Bryant to return the papers. In addition, schoolofficials and student editors met to discuss problems with the newspaper,ultimately deciding to revamp the journalism program and update TheTimesí newsroom.

“We came to the conclusion that the journalism program is very weakand that it needs to be totally restructured from an academic standpoint,”Sotolongo-Cuzan said. “We are re-evaluating everything within the programto see how we can strengthen it.”The Falcon Times received a $2,000 budget for immediate supplies,and the newsroom will be getting all new journalism equipment, Sotolongo-Cuzansaid, adding that she did not think the paper or the program would havebeen updated if the confiscation had not been brought to officialsíattention. She said she thinks it opened their eyes to the journalism programísproblems at the college.

At Charleston University, a group of about 10 students confiscatedfour-fifths of the student newspaper’s press run in September after thenewspaper published a front-page story about a student accused of sexualharassment.

Students at the small, private school in Charleston, W.Va., stole about400 copies of The Eagle’s 500-paper press run. The issue containeda story about a student, Mark Karake, who was found responsible for sexualharassment in a university disciplinary proceeding. At the time the storywas published, Karake still had the option of two appeals. Both appealswere later denied, and Karake was expelled from Charleston in October.

According to Josh Hafenbrack, co-editor of The Eagle and authorof the front-page story, many of the students who stole the papers fromthe eight racks around campus were also Karakeís accusers. Hafenbracksaid he believes the students wanted to keep the story quiet until Karakehad exhausted all his appeals.

At Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro, frightened witnessesand an unclear surveillance video spoiled a case against a student suspectedof stealing about 5,500 copies of the campus newspaperís 6,100-paperpress run.

The newspaper contained a story about a student who was convicted ofbattery against other students during a final exam in April. Amanda Watlington,editor of The Herald, said she believes the student who was thesubject of the story, Edwin Duane Alvin, also stole the newspapers. Butprosecutors decided not to prosecute Alvin for the theft because the evidenceagainst him was not compelling enough.

Campus police told Watlington that witnesses who said they saw Alvinsteal the papers would not go on record because they were scared of him.In addition, a surveillance video that showed a man resembling Alvin takingnewspapers was not conclusive enough for either the prosecutors or theASU Office of Judicial Affairs to levy any punishment or charges.

The article that Herald staff members believe may have motivatedAlvin to steal the papers discussed his conviction of third-degree batteryand disorderly conduct in July for shoving two female students and a malestudent in a classroom.

Watlington said she would not pursue further legal action against Alvin.

“Since [Alvin] is up for graduation soon, we think [the administration]is just hoping he will leave,” Watlington said. “They have had troublewith him before.”

Before the theft, the sign on The Herald’s racks around campussaid “free,” but now the nameplate reads “single issue free.” Watlingtonsaid additional copies are 50 cents each.