Fla. college fires newspaper staff, suspends publication after April Fool

FLORIDA — Administrators fired the entireeditorial staff of Stetson University’s student newspaper and suspendedits publication last week after an April Fool’s edition outraged schoolofficials. University leaders say the staff of The Reporter wenttoo far with its spoof edition, renamed The Distorter, which includedwhat officials believed were racist jokes and a sex-advice column advocatingrape. Editor in Chief Teresa Schwarz and the sex columnist, August Brown, laterapologized and offered to resign their positions, but administrators said thatwas not enough. “The staff has the responsibility to approve thosedocuments and did so, so the recommendation was that they all be heldresponsible,” said Jim Beasley, vice president foradministration.Brown said he should be held accountable for his column,which was written in Ebonics and satirically advocated violence toward women.After the column was published, he said he was contacted by rape victims whosaid his humor brought up painful memories.“I’ve tried tojustify in my head why I wrote this, and, looking back, I reallycan’t,” Brown said. “It’s pretty much crass andoffensive for the sake of being crass and offensive. If I knew it would havehurt people like that I would have stopped writing it the second I realizedthat.”He added, however, that many staff members were not aware ofthe potentially offensive articles that ran in April Fool’s edition. “They’re crucifying people who had literally nothing to dowith this except their name appeared on the same masthead as ours,” Brownsaid. “We tried to offer a solution and take accountability and the schooldidn’t see that as enough. They wanted to make an example out ofus.”Schwarz had several meetings with school officials prior toher firing and said she was kept in the dark about the university’sintentions.“We offered our resignations as a solution, and [Deanof Students Michelle Espinosa] said it didn’t send a clear message to thecommunity that this kind of behavior is not tolerated,” Schwarz said.“She would not communicate with me more than that.”Espinosareferred calls for comment to Beasley, who said the paper will be suspendeduntil fall, when a new staff will be approved by Espinosa. In the past, apublications board comprised of faculty members and student editors selected theeditor in chief, who then selected staff members. Schwarz said the publicationsboard did not play a role in the decision to fire the Reporter staff.Beasley said the private Florida university, which funds the newspaperthrough student fees, is the paper’s publisher and can therefore makemajor decisions about it. “The publisher has a right to havecertain standards which we have worked to establish,” he said.“It’s the same sort of holding accountable as commercial newspaperswould do.”Because Stetson University is a private institution, theFirst Amendment does not limit the school’s ability to censor studentpublications. Schwarz said the fact that the university can legally limitstudent expression doesn’t mean it is an appropriatereaction.“They haven’t allowed us to voice our responses totheir actions by shutting down the paper,” Schwarz said. “It’snot like we can have a public response to this. They censored us simply becausethey didn’t allow us to publish again.”Though administratorssay they welcome former staff members to reapply for positions in the fall,Brown said those involved in the production of the April Fool’s editionwill be at a disadvantage. He added that by suspending The Reporter, theadministration eliminated dialogue on campus.“We realized wecrossed the line in the things we ran, but we were willing to atone for that andtry to keep this kind of open forum we had at the school,” Brown said.“The Reporter was the only open forum to discuss any kind of issueson campus. Now they’ve essentially gone and made it irrelevant to thestudent body.”