U. of Texas at Tyler reinstates student newspaper adviser

TEXAS — The University of Texas at Tyler todayreinstated Vanessa Curry as the student newspaper adviser, twoweeks after she was told her contract would not be renewed.

The university’s decision followed efforts by the nationalSociety of Professional Journalists and the Southwest EducationCouncil for Journalism and Mass Communication to restore Curryin her position as adviser and journalism lecturer. Curry saidshe was told on April 16 that her contract would not be renewed.

"I’m very relived for the students’ sake and very happythat we were able to work something out," Curry said followingtoday’s meeting with President Rodney Mabry. "[The university]started rethinking and reevaluating some of the evidence, includingmy student evaluations. We agreed that there was a lack of communicationand they relied on some misinformation that they shouldn’t have."

Mabry called today a happy and exciting day for the university.

"I got a lot of additional information over that lastseveral days and more from [Curry] today, and decided that wereally didn’t have enough information on other matters to makethe decision that we did," he explained. "And we’rehappy. We’re really excited."

When asked to elaborate on what "information" led tohis change of heart, Mabry declined to comment. Instead, he said,"It’s just best to leave it at that and let this new boardwork its magic and we’ll have a great time."

The new board Mabry referred to was the centerpiece of anotherfree-press debate at the university. Earlier this week, Mabryagreed to revise the makeup of the board, which oversees the selectionof an editor and adviser.

Initially the board was to be made up of five administrators,while the new composition includes five students, three facultymembers, two professional journalists and one administrator.

Curry, meanwhile, said she has already started preparing forthe new arrangement. Once the board is officially in place,it must select an editor to start in the fall semester.

Curry, a former newspaper reporter, was recruited in 1999 totake on the adviser position at The Patriot while pursuingher master’s degree at Tyler. Even though she was never givenan official reason why she would be let go, she suspected it hadto do with her efforts to revitalize The Patriot.

"I was told by the dean that administration felt theretoo many errors in the newspaper, that the students file too manyrecords requests, that we were too aggressive in seeking thatinformation," she said.

In the process of revamping the paper, Curry said, she taughtstudents how to hold administrators accountable. She advised studentsabout the Texas Public Information Act and showed them how tofile open-records requests as a last resort for getting information.

Curry estimated that during her three-year tenure, studentsfiled roughly 25 open-records requests, demanding anything fromadministrators’ salaries to information about on-going investigations.

The university criticized the new approach of The Patriotand had sought ways to curtail the paper, according to articlesin the Dallas Morning News and the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

The Dallas Morning News quoted Provost David O’Keefeas saying that The Patriot‘s open-records requests "raisedsome concern at the level of administration. You should bear inmind, I don’t believe the students should be getting into that."

Curry disagreed. "I feel that I should teach them as bestas I can what it’s really like in the real world to be a realjournalist," she said. "Just because you’re a studentjournalist doesn’t mean that you’re not equal to the people whodo it for a paid living."

She added that as a student newspaper, errors are always likelyto occur, but The Patriot is better than most newspapersin that it takes care of its responsibilities.

"We don’t strive for perfection, we strive for excellence,"Curry said.

Curry’s reinstatement comes days after editor Melissa Tresnersuccessfully lobbied Mabry to drop restrictive language in theuniversity’s publications policy and alter the makeup of the governingboard. The arrangement must still be approved by the Universityof Texas System.

View the Society of Professional Journalists’ press release asking the University of Texas at Tyler to reinstate Curry.