Student journalists at two universities resigned their editor positions this fall because they said administrators bullied them and their staffs by criticizing content and, in one case, threatening budget cuts.
Nick Will, editor in chief of Harvard University business school’s newspaper, The Harbus, resigned his post in November after administrators threatened to hold him personally accountable for future content that they found offensive. He also was threatened with possible disciplinary marks on his college record.
Administrators were upset by an editorial cartoon in the Oct. 28 edition that made light of Harvard’s Career Link Program. The program was supposed to allow M.B.A. students to schedule job interviews with businesses recruiting on campus, but it was ‘plagued with technical problems.’ The cartoon depicted a computer monitor overrun with error messages. Administrators took offense to one message in particular, ‘incompetent morons,’ which they said was a personal attack on career services employees and a violation of the community standards code.
Will was called into a meeting with administrators and verbally warned of the violation, according to a Nov. 14 article in The Record, Harvard Law School’s student newspaper. A verbal warning is considered the first step in the disciplinary process.
Administrators also told him to portray career services in a good light in the future.
‘To avoid being called in again I was told I would have to steer clear of all questionable content,’ Will said in a Harbus article. He resigned citing ‘personal intimidation and threats’ by Harvard officials.
‘The level of personal risk is too high. I’m very sad about it but I can’t take the risk of having every word screened by the administration,’ he said the same article.
Will did not respond to interview requests, but administrators responded to the resignation with a memo that stated the school is committed to free expression and inquiry. Business school dean Kim Clark said in the memo that he was ‘saddened’ by Will’s resignation.’
Five student editors at Utica College of Syracuse University in New York announced they were resigning their posts in November in protest of administrators’ objections to content and funding of The Tangerine.
‘We all resigned because of the conditions we were forced to work under,’ said Laurent L. Lawrence, editor in chief.
The editors say the breaking point came with a letter to the editor written by Ken Kelly, dean of students, criticizing newspaper staff members who wrote several investigative articles about the college. Kelly also claimed there was one factual error among the stories.
‘One or several deceptive articles can taint an entire issue and I encourage the editors to ensure that the good work of our many student journalists is not undermined by association with the deception of a few,’ Kelly said in his letter.
Lawrence contends that the administrators do not respect the students in their role as journalists.
‘The administration tells the writing staff that they don’t have time [to grant interviews],’ Lawrence said. ‘All around it’s a whole process of mistreatment. We’re working with bare minimum.’
The Tangerine was faced with a budget cut during the past year, which worsened their working conditions. And administrators recently proposed another budget cut that could severely limit the newspaper’s production, said Kim Landon, adviser.
Lawrence said the 30-year-old newsroom has two computers for 25 writers, and this semester the staff members have gone through three monitors.
Administrators have not reacted to the editors’ resignations, but the editors of The Tangerine hope to meet with administrators in an attempt to reach a resolution or compromise, Lawrence said.
‘I don’t think anyone on the staff wants to abandon the paper or see it go away,’ Lawrence said. ‘I think it’s in the best interest of whoever takes over the paper that they get the respect they deserve.’