TENNESSEE — Two weeks after 7,500 copies ofthe student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University disappeared fromdistribution points on campus, school officials have few solid leads in thecase.The copies disappeared on the morning of Aug. 28 when thenewspaper, Sidelines, printed a front-page story that reported that twofraternities, Pi Kappa Alpha and Kappa Sigma, owed more than $60,000 each inrent on their fraternity houses. School administrators and newspaper officialssaid they believe the story may be the cause for the disappearance. Themorning the story came out, “we couldn’t find a paper on campus,whatsoever,” said Amanda Maynord, Sidelines managingeditor.Campus police and administrators at the Murfreesboro campus of22,000 are investigating the case in which all but a few hundred newspapersdisappeared.The theft resulted in financial losses of $5,100 fromadvertising revenue, printing costs and payroll, said Sidelines Editor inChief Patrick Chinnery.“We take the act very seriously. Itstrikes at the very essence of what the university is about,” said RobertGlenn, vice president for student affairs.Sidelines reported thatboth fraternities were in danger of losing their lease agreements with theschool because of outstanding balances. According to the story, Kappa Sigmaowed more than $64,000 and Pi Kappa Alpha owed nearly $70,000 until they madepayments to lower their balance to approximately $30,000. The story waspublished during rush week, and Chinnery said that he believed fraternitymembers feared that the article would have a negative effect on pledgerecruitment.“Every person I talked to [from fraternities] asked menot to run the story,” said Chinnery, a senior political sciencemajor.Members of the two fraternities did not return e-mails seekingcomment, but The (Nashville) Tennessean reported that thepresidents of the two fraternities denied accusations that they or their memberswere responsible for the theft.“I had extended and very frankconversations with the fraternity presidents and they had conversations withtheir members. But no one came forward,” Glenn said. “It would beunusual for a coward to step forward, and this was an act ofcowardice.”The free newspapers were distributed throughout thecampus to roughly 60 stands and drop-off points, but they disappeared within anhour.“It would take an organized effort to get them all in a shortperiod of time,” Chinnery said.To help the investigation,administrators have attempted to convey the gravity of the theft to the campuscommunity. In addition to holding discussions with fraternity members, Glennwrote a letter to the editor in Sidelines denouncing theact.“The act of stealing those newspapers was an act of violenceagainst the very nature of what we are all here for at the University,”Glenn wrote. “We must take the necessary actions to restore what wastaken from us.”Despite praise for the reaction of theadministration, Chinnery said he is frustrated by theinvestigation.“In terms of initial reaction and public statement,I only have good things to say,” Chinnery said. “Given thatit’s been two weeks and there’s no suspects I just can’tbelieve that [investigators] have no leads.” Though campus policeare investigating the fraternities, they said they are avoiding jumping toconclusions about the culprits and remain open to othersuspects.“We’re making assumptions [that the fraternitieswere involved] based on the content of the newspaper,” Glenn said. Headded that the perpetrator or perpetrators could have been offended by otherstories in the newspaper. The front page also included stories about the Collegeof Education, an observatory and a new director of a campusorganization.In addition to talking to fraternity members, investigatorsare looking into video records and eyewitness accounts, but thus far have comeup empty-handed.“We’ve got suspects,” said Sgt. MattFoster of the university’s Department of Public Safety. “We’ve gotseveral people who said they saw people, but no one can be identified. Without apositive ID, you have nothing.”Other tips, according toinvestigators, have been too “vague” to yield hardevidence.Glenn cited one example in which a woman saw two white maleswith a bundle of newspapers in the back of their pick-up truck.Becauseof the number of people that match that description, investigating such a tip is“like going down to the rock quarry and looking for a quarter under arock,” Glenn said.Surveillance video cameras have provided littleevidence because the cameras were stationed at exit doors and walkways, ratherthan newspaper racks. Because of this, the videos have turned up littleevidence.“We’ve reviewed video tape and all sorts of thing,but unfortunately haven’t found anyone,” Glenn said.It isnot clear how the thieves might be punished if they are caught. While Glennindicated that it could be a matter for campus adjudication, Chinnery and Fosterhave suggested that they would seek criminal prosecution.“If wefind them, we’re absolutely going to press charges,” Chinnerysaid.Foster said the culprits could face felony charges because lossestotaled more than $1,000.This is the second time that Sidelineshas been stolen in the last three years. The previous time, a student was foundput on probation for stealing a newsstand and given community service forstealing newspapers.
Read previous coverage:
- Tenn. university punishes student for stealing issue The Report, Fall 2001