Editors quit Oregon college paper after classmates circulate petition to oust them

OREGON — Two student editors at The ReedCollege Quest resigned Feb. 20 amid allegations of racism and a campus-widecampaign that threatened to oust them from their electedpositions.Recent articles printed in the Quest have sparkeddebate at Reed College about who controls the paper’s content. Co-editorJesse Hoffman said it was his duty to prompt discussion on campus and that aseditor, he should be able to print anything not libelous or unlawful. But DanDenvir, student body president, said students sent a clear message when theysigned a petition approving a recall election for the editor positions thatHoffman and Melelani Sax-Barnett held.“Free speech is extremelyimportant to me, but if I send an article to the New Yorker and theydecide not to print it, that’s not censorship, it’s within theireditorial purview,” Denvir said. “At Reed, the student body is theeditors of the papers. What the recall petition said was that they wantededitors [who] followed different editorial guidelines than what Jessedid.”Hoffman e-mailed his letter of resignation to the entire ReedCollege community. In it he said, “I believe the fundamental tenet of agenuinely liberal paper is that it prints the most outrageous and despicableopinions so that its opponents can duly challenge them — that themarketplace of ideas necessitates a range of opinions barring anything that islibelous or obscene.”The Feb. 4 edition of the Questincluded a spoof of a popular Web site, Hot or Not, which asks viewers to submittheir pictures and allows others to rate them. A center-spread article in theQuest entitled “Academic or Not?” featured five humanitiesprofessors, including English department chairperson Pancho Savery, who isblack.The spoof of Savery asked, “Incendiary afrocentrist withalarmist concerns? Enlightened intelectual [sic] with informed opinions? Hepreaches multiculturalism, but is his agenda unscrupulously black and white? Youdecide.”The spread incited outrage at Reed and cries that theQuest had a racist agenda. “A lot of the expressions oncampus were very emotional ones, people deeply hurt by what we published,”said Hoffman, who later apologized to the professors in the spoof. “Giventhat, I defend it on the grounds that it wasn’t racist and that it doesstrike a nerve that it was intended to. It did prompt a lot of debate anddiscussion.”After the article was published, Denvir e-mailedseveral minority student groups to voice his opposition to the paper’sdecision to print the spoof. Hoffman said Denvir’s e-mail declared thepiece as racist and helped “incite fury” on campus. Hoffman addedthat it was inappropriate for Denvir to send the e-mail, which he believescaused people to lash out against the paper. Denvir maintains that he wrote thee-mail not as student body president but as “an activist oncampus.”Shortly thereafter, three Reed seniors offended by thearticle began circulating a petition. Because editors of the Quest areelected by the student body, their positions may be rescinded if 35 percent ofstudents vote for such action. In order for a recall campaign to come up forvote, 20 percent of the student body must sign a petition saying they favor arecall election. Hoffman said while he expected comments, he wassurprised by the outrage expressed by the student body. Many accused him ofhaving violated Reed’s honor code, which states that students should acthonorably and not cause discomfort to other members of the campus community.“People used the honor principle against the Quest toinhibit its ability to print a wide range of opinions,” Hoffman said.“My argument was when determining what to print in an independentnewspaper, use Oregon laws and U.S. laws.”Savery said that despitehis reaction to the paper’s spoof, he initially opposed suggestions for arecall.“I found the original piece to be incredibly offensive,unquestionably racist, in extremely poor taste and stupid,” he said.“Nevertheless, the bottom line is however poorly [Hoffman] was doing it,he was trying to criticize things he didn’t like about what I do in theclassroom. He has the right to make his critique of me.”Saverysaid he changed his mind and decided to support the recall campaign after theFeb. 18 edition of the Quest contained an article and editorial cartoonthat some found degrading to women. By this point, the student government hadcertified the petition and plans for the recall election were underway. Denvirsaid he did not participate in the certification process because of his personalinvolvement and activism in the situation.Hoffman said he requested acopy of the petition signed by 20 percent of the students so he could check forerrors. The student senate denied the request, Denvir said, because the groupdecided that signing the petition was considered voting and that the namesshould thus be protected. When Hoffman realized he could not convince thestudent senate to turn over the names, he appealed to Reed College PresidentColin Diver to put an injunction on the elections. When that did notmaterialize, Hoffman decided to resign. Sax-Barnett resigned shortlyafter.Elections of the new editorial board were held Feb. 28. Hoffmansaid he has no interest in being involved with the Quest under its newleadership. He added that although he does not have specific plans, he hopes tocontinue “letting people know the problems with Reed’s method of‘independent’ and ‘free’ journalism.”