Caught on camera: Pennsylvania students punished for trashing newspapers

Three Drexel University students who were caught on campus security cameras trashing several thousand copies of the student newspaper were placed on disciplinary probation last month. A school official said at least one of the thieves was upset about two cartoons the newspaper had previously published.

David Ruth, the judicial officer for the college, said each of the male students was billed $175 on their tuition invoice, which will go directly to The Triangle to offset the $1,000 editors say it cost to print that edition. And the students, in conjunction with the Office of Multicultural Programs, will be putting together a forum or workshop to discuss the newspaper theft.

The Triangle editor Geoff Castle referred all questions of the disciplinary proceedings to Ruth but said he felt the punishment was adequate.

“[Stealing newspapers] is such a blunt, stupid form of protest that obviously we would like to see it discouraged in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

The three students were caught on surveillance cameras leaving the student union and other campus buildings with armfuls of the Nov. 22 edition hours after it had been distributed. Castle said a total of 6,000 copies were taken.

The Triangle reported on the theft in a Dec. 6 front-page article that included several images of the theft in progress as captured by the cameras. An editorial denounced the theft and reminded readers that although the paper is free they are permitted to only take one copy.

Ruth said the students admitted to stealing the papers in retaliation for two cartoons in previous November weekly editions that they found offensive. At least one of the students was reported to be upset over a Nov. 8 comic by student Frank Schieber that poked fun at the intelligence of Polish people. The newspaper carried a letter to the editor by one of the students in its Nov. 15 edition that called the comic “insensitive, ignorant and offensive.” That student, along with his two friends, stole the Nov. 22 issue because, Ruth said, he was angry that Schieber addressed him by name in that edition’s cartoon. In it, the artist responded to the complaint by writing that he would “tone it down.”

The students were sanctioned in a private meeting with Ruth in January. Ruth said a full disciplinary hearing was unnecessary because the students already had accepted responsibility. The university does not have a policy that specifically forbids stealing campus newspapers; however, Ruth said the theft was considered “detrimental behavior,” which under university bylaws could be subject to disciplinary action.

“There is an appropriate mechanism for airing your displeasure with content you find insensitive or offensive in the newspaper,” Ruth said. “They apparently felt they were doing the right thing. They wrote a letter to the editor. But theft or other means are not appropriate and will not be tolerated.”