N.Y. college readmits adviser following sex column controversy

NEW YORK — As the saying goes, sex sells.So when editors at The Wagnerian decided to join the recent trendof campus newspapers running sex advice columns, they hoped to raise a feweyebrows, renew interest in the paper and encourage a healthy dialogue amongstudents at Wagner College, located in Staten Island.The feedback theyinstead received was disapproval by the administration, which pulled papers fromthe racks and threatened to fire Claire Regan, a Wagner alumna who has advisedthe paper for more than 15 years. “I’ve worked with[Claire] very closely for past two years, and she’s never once censored uson anything,” said Jill Higgins, editor in chief of The Wagnerian.“There have been articles she doesn’t agree with, but she’salways given us full editorial decision. [Running the sex column] was a decisionthat she did not make, and it’s not her job to censorus.”“The Sex-Files” column, which ran in the Nov. 18issue of The Wagnerian, discussed faking orgasms and included a“man on the street” section with quotes and pictures from students.On Nov. 22, the administration pulled hundreds of copies of the twice-monthly,1,000-circulation publication from the stands and placed them in Dean AnnLove’s office. Regan said it is still unclear who ordered the removal ofthe papers, which are still in the administration’s custody. Loveand Wagner President Richard Guarasci did not return phone calls Monday. Higginssaid initially administrators told her they feared litigation from parents whosechildren had answered the question, “Orgasms: Do you fake it?” in asidebar to the column. Members of The Wagnerian staff later contacted thestudents who were quoted, all of whom said they had no problem with thepiece.Robert O’Brien, chairman of the board of trustees at Wagner,said nothing like a sex column has run in The Wagnerian during the 12years he has served on the board. He said although the column came as a shock tomany, the administration and the board remain dedicated to freespeech.“The one thing we have stated is we are absolutelycommitted to freedom of speech of our student body and freedom of speech of ourfaculty,” O’Brien said. “But speech has a certainresponsibility that goes along with it, and we would hope all of those bodieswould be mindful of that responsibility. A lot of people found the article to beoffensive. The question is, if it is offensive, are you sensitive to that andare you aware of it?”Higgins said Guarasci required editors tosubmit a final draft of the paper to Love prior to the publication of theDecember issue.“I was told I would no longer supervise, but wouldbe a faculty adviser,” Regan said. “It was cloudy about what my rolewould be. [The administration] wanted me to stay involved, but it became clearthey didn’t want me to be the sole adviser.”TheWagnerian is fully funded by Wagner College. Because Wagner is a privatecollege, students are not afforded the same protections as those at publicschools under the First Amendment. Since filing a lawsuit would likely beunfruitful, Wagnerian staff members took a different approach, writing astory about the situation and notifying members of the campuscommunity.On Dec. 3, 58 professors and more than 700 students at thecollege of 2,500 signed petitions to protest the “restriction of freespeech at Wagner.” Guarasci sent the staff a memo Dec. 19requesting “a comprehensive review of the mission and journalistic goalsfor The Wagnerian.”Regan said she and Wagnerianstaff members spent the break working on the review, which Guarasci asked befinished by Jan. 17. Regan said the review outlined aspects such as a missionstatement, goals and objectives, the paper’s audience and the role of theadviser.“It was a good exercise for me and for thestudents,” Regan said. “It was a collaborative effort that was onestep toward a resolution.”Regan submitted the review to Guarasciand said she was pleased when last week he announced at a faculty meeting thatshe would be the sole adviser to the newspaper for the remainder of thesemester. Additionally, Guarasci sent a memo to the campus community Jan. 27 toaddress the “status of The Wagnerian and its advisingoversight.”“Our basic principle is that The Wagnerianis a longstanding part of student life and, like all programs at the college, itretains the freedom to pursue open inquiry with an abiding commitment tofairness, integrity and responsibility,” he wrote. He added that as aresult of the Wagnerian’s review, “I believe we have achievedgenuine campus consensus in resolving many of the issues raised lastsemester.” He added that in September 2003 a full-time journalismprofessor will join Wagner and share Regan’s advising duties. Regan saidshe was satisfied with the resolution to last semester’sproblems.“Student journalists definitely need guidance, I’vealways believed that,” she said. “That’s my role as theadviser. Plus I think it’s clarified the role and the importance of TheWagnerian at Wagner. It really reaffirmed everybody’s support of itand interest in it.”Higgins maintains that the paper was notnegligent in running the column in the first place.“Our basicargument is that our primary audience is the student body of Wagner College.That’s whom we’re writing for,” she said. “Maybe the sexcolumn was a little over the edge for our first time, but it was what studentswanted to read.”On Jan. 28, the legislative branch ofWagner’s student government association voted on two resolutions —one affirming the student government’s support of free speech and onecondemning the administration for its actions last semester. Student governmentPresident Debby Ashim said only the first resolution passed. Though she wasreluctant to discuss details, she said student newspaper has a responsibility toproduce quality content.“I think the newspaper needs to upholdcertain standards and needs to be an example of good journalism,” shesaid.Both Higgins and Regan said this incident would not affect the waythey make decisions for The Wagnerian.“I have learnedrights have to be fought for,” Higgins said. “Because we go to aprivate college, they’re not afforded to us. It’s something that canbe taken from you very quickly before you even realize that it’shappening.”The next issue of The Wagnerian is expected nextweek and will include copies of the review submitted by the staff to thepresident and the president’s subsequent memo regarding the situation.Higgins added that she hopes to continue running a sex column in TheWagnerian once the current controversy dies down.