Pa. college adviser resigns for fear of losing promotion after trustees complain about coverage

PENNSYLVANIA — The role of the newspaper adviseris in question at Thiel College after one adviser resigned, fearing his chancesfor promotion and tenure would be threatened over unpopular articles and photosthat appeared in the Thielensian.Thielensian editor NathanShrader said the controversy began in the fall semester when the weekly paperran an article exposing that administrative salaries were above average, whilefaculty salaries were below the average. The board of trustees also questionedShrader for publishing a photograph of a student wearing condoms on her earsduring a sex education event.Dan West, assistant professor ofcommunications at the private school, resigned from his role as newspaperadviser in November because he said his chances for promotion were threatenedwhen he refused to censor content in the Thielensian. “Theimplication that I should censor the paper was there,” West said.“So rather than do that, I would just rather resign.”Westsaid his department chair, Barbara Valenzuela, informed him that the collegepresident, Lance Masters, was concerned about West’s performance as thenewspaper adviser.Masters said that he had relayed a concern of a boardof trustees member to Valenzuela, but he said, “I never threatened[West].” Valenzuela did not return phone calls seekingcomment.Masters said West had no reason to fear that the administrationwould block his promotion. “I have upheld every single facultyrecommendation that’s been brought through this office. I’vesupported every action for retention, tenure and promotion,” Masterssaid.However, Masters added that tenure is not ultimately the decisionof the administration, it is the decision of the board of trustees.“I can’t protect an assistant professor against a board oftrustees,” Masters said. “I can’t assure, nor can anypresident assure, that those processes are even and without individualconsiderations.”Shrader said he was questioned at a board meetingabout the photograph with the condoms. He said trustees wanted to know why itdid not have an accompanying story. Shrader said he explained that thephotograph was meant to highlight student activities and that the staff felt thecaption explained the picture.“I think it’s common place tofind photographs on Page One that don’t really have a story related toit,” Shrader said.Shrader said the issue is between theadministration and the paper, not with the board.After West’sresignation, the administration called the Thielensian’s printerand demanded that no issue be run until the Dean of Student Services called toapprove the printing. Masters said the halt on printing was an issue ofliability. “We never stopped the newspaper just because wedidn’t like it.” Masters said.He said that because thenewspaper is funded entirely through student activity fees he believed theschool is ultimately the publisher of the paper and must have an adviser readeach issue before it goes to press. “It never crossed my mind thatwe would be in any kind of trouble running this without an adviser reviewing andapproving the copy,” Shrader said.But Masters said that an advisermust review the paper for potentially libelous material. The Nov. 5issue was only allowed to be printed after the Thielensian found a newadviser and he read the proofs.Masters said the administration only heldthe newspaper for 24 hours, but Shrader said, “It was roughly two weeksuntil that issue came out.”Now, students staff members and interimadviser Robert Wells, a tenured professor of political science, are working toensure that future advisers will not feel pressured to censor the paper. Theyare challenging the wording in the adviser contract, hoping to find a betterbalance between student rights and administration concerns. Wells had not signedthe existing adviser contract and he said he does not intend to sign a contractuntil the negotiations over the wording are completed.The editorialstaff and the media board, its oversight body made up of students and faculty,recommended a “hold harmless” clause in the adviser’scontract, which would protect advisers from being punished in the event ofcontroversy or concern over content in the newspaper. If this clause was addedto the contract, West could not be denied promotion based upon anadministrator’s or trustee’s perceptions of the newspaper’sperformance.Masters said he does not think the administration would beadvised by its lawyer to sign a contract including that clause. Masterssaid he is not optimistic that the contract issue will be resolved quickly, buthe said he is allowing Wells and the college’s attorney, Ed Stoner, towork out the issues.“If this is an opportunity for us to end upwith a better agreement between the institution and various advisers,wonderful,” Masters said.Shrader and Wells are hopeful that theissue will be resolved so that West can return to the position. West said hewould be happy to return to the Thielensian if the contract agreed uponbetter protects advisers.“I considered my role to be: To give thestudents advice about improving the quality of the newspaper,” West said,“but, I don’t think my chances for promotion in my normal job dutiesshould suffer just because the students had written an article that wasunpopular with the administration.”