CALIFORNIA — The head of the journalism department atSan Francisco State University confiscated hundreds of copiesof a campus magazine last week before releasing them three dayslater.
Editors ran a photo of dildos on the cover of [X]press magazineto promote an "exclusive" story on a San Francisco dildofactory. The magazine was distributed on Dec. 13, but less thana day later, John Burks, chairman of the journalism department,decided to yank the issue from news racks.
Katie Rosenfeld, managing editor of [X]press, said she wasshocked to learn the issue had been pulled. Burks did not consultwith her about taking the magazine, she said. In fact, Rosenfeldsaid, only after a meeting between Burks and four editors, didthe possibility of redistribution seem likely. The magazine was put back on news racks on Monday.
Burks, whose department oversees all student publications,said his intention was not to censor the magazine. Instead, hewanted to call a "timeout" to discuss the cover artwith other faculty members, he said.
"This was about what the public will and will not standfor," Burks said. "Students didn’t go to an adult bookstoreand ask for this, they got it by walking through the student union.
"We didn’t censor the magazine," he added. "It’sout there now and most copies are probably already gone."
Rosenfeld said after her meeting with Burks, a vote was conducted,mostly via e-mail, in which faculty members decided to redistribute the magazine.
Burks stood by his decision and said his only regret was thatthe faculty could not use the incident as a teaching lesson becausestudents have already recessed for winter break. He also saidhe would not hesitate to collect the magazine in the future ifit contained libelous material or sensitive information, suchas the contents of a nuclear bomb.
San Francisco State University has a unique relationship betweenthe journalism faculty and student publications. Since studentswork on the newspaper and magazine during class as laboratorypublications, the faculty retains some control over publications.
The department’s policy states that "the faculty giveseditorial control to the students, with the final decision-makingin the hands of the editor-in-chief." The document also says,"The department chair has the authority to decide on allmatters of non-editorial policy, such as printing, accounting,circulation, advertising, budgeting and bidding."
Burks said he was within the guidelines of the policy whenhe collected the magazines because of the circulation clause.
One of Burks’ predecessors, who wrote the policy, said Burkshas misinterpreted the reference to circulation.
"Circulation means you have a responsibility to have itcirculated," said Betty Medsger, a former department chairwoman."It’s the chair’s responsibility to see that the money israised to publish and circulate, certainly not to repress by withdrawingfrom circulation."
Medsger drafted the policy and the department approved it in1988 to protect the rights of student journalists, who interactoften with faculty members given the structure of the publications.
"We thought it was important to clarify that faculty memberswere not to have any editorial control," she said. "Thepolicy was meant so something like this would never happen."
View a photo of the cover courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.