Va. university seizes newspapers after editors refused to run letter on front page

VIRGINIA —- Student editors and HamptonUniversity officials reached an agreement to form a task force on the future ofthe student newspaper late Friday, two days after the school’s acting presidentseized all copies of the paper’s homecoming issue.The task force, whichwill consist of student editors, professional journalists, faculty and theassistant to the president, will make binding recommendations about the role ofThe Hampton Script and the amount of control that administrators canexert over it.The agreement stemmed from an incident on Wednesday whenadministrators at Hampton University confiscated all 6,500 copies of the TheScript because editors refused to run a letter from the university’sacting president on the front page, students said.”We agreed toreprint the paper with the memo [from Acting President JoAnn Haysbert] on thefront,” said Talia Buford, editor of The Script. The actingpresident at the private school reportedly objected to a front-page story abouthealth-code violations at a university cafeteria.Haysbert’sletter, which was originally printed on Page 3 of the newspaper, responded tothe article that detailed more than 100 health-code violations in four visits bythe Virginia Department of Health since March.”We didn’tprint something where they wanted it,” Talia Buford, editor of theHampton Script told the Hampton Roads Daily Press. ”And theytook the papers away.”In her letter to the campus community beforethe incident, Haysbert described the university’s efforts to eliminatehealth-code violations and said that the university should not be singled outfor its violations.”[T]wo other local universities had multipleviolations, some critical and some non-critical, but it is interesting thatthere was no media attention given to these institutions,” she wrote.”The question that a number of us have is, why single out HamptonUniversity?”According to The Hampton Script article, theuniversity’s rate of health violations was well aboveaverage.Buford said that she views the agreement as progress, but,”I’m hesitant to call it a pure victory because we don’twhat’s going to happen yet. We don’t view this as a compromise ofour morals, ethics or stance, but being stubborn doesn’t helpanyone.”Chris Campbell, director of the Scripps Howard School ofJournalism and Communications, said the new task force would positively impactthe journalism program and the newspaper.”Obviously, I’mpleased that it’s resolved,” he said. ”My guess is that thistask force is going to be recommending an independentnewspaper.”Campbell said that the task force will meet early thisweek, but there is no timeline in place yet for when it would issuerecommendations.Before the agreement reached late Friday, variousprofessional organizations condemned university administrators for their actionsincluding Black College Wire, the National Association of Black Journalists andthe American Society of Newspaper Editors.”If the university ownsthe press, they feel they can do what they want,” said Richard Prince,editor of Black College Wire, a wire service that provides news coverage abouthistorically black colleges such as Hampton. ”The issue is that it has notbeen made clear [to the schools] that the newspaper [should be]independent.”Since the confiscation occurred, the ASNE, whichrecently donated $55,000 to HU’s journalism school for a summer traininginstitute for high school journalists, has said that it will re-evaluate whetherto continue its grant program.”As of today, given ourdisappointment and deep concern, we are in the process of re-evaluating whetherthere will be a 2004 institute at Hampton,” said Diana Mitsu Klos, seniorproject director for the ASNE.The ASNE has had an ongoing relationshipwith Hampton University and made grants to the school in each of the past fouryears. Mitsu Klos said that Hampton was one of six universities to receive highschool teachers’ journalism grants for the summer of2004.”It’s an unfortunate situation if the decision is notto return there, we want to be clear that this is not a reflection on theprinciples or faculty of the journalism school but on the actions of the senioradministrators,” she said.It is not clear what effect thisagreement might have on the ASNE’s grant.”We released anopen letter to the university today,” said Herbert Lowe, president of theNABJ and a crimes and courts reporter for Newsday, before an agreementwas reached. ”I made a personal call to the editor [Buford] and let herknow that I and every member of NABJ stands behind her.””Weare not going to rest until we are convinced that black students at thisprestigious university have a shot at getting trained for jobs in the year andyears to come,” Lowe said. Black College Wire has posted some ofthe stories in the confiscated issue of The Script, including the storyabout the cafeteria’s health-code violations.The story thatsparked the controversy ran under the headline ”Hampton U. Cafeteria GetsClean Bill of Health” and described ongoing health violations at theuniversity as well as its subsequent efforts to fix the violations.MitsuKlos said that the ASNE would likely have a decision next week about whether thegrant would be withdrawn. With the task force now in place, however, Campbellsaid that he would be surprised if the ASNE withdrew funding.In astatement released after the agreement, Haysbert said that she was optimisticthat the task force would improve the quality of journalism education at theschool.”There is indeed a lesson to be learned from all ofthis,” said Haysbert. ”And I propose that through research,discussing our differences and listening to one another, we will uncovervaluable insight that will collectively make Hampton stronger.”Thetask force will be chaired by journalist Earl Caldwell and includes Buford, ajunior print journalism major, and Campbell, as well as a second student, DaarelBurnette, II, who is a sophomore print journalism major. Buford saidthat she hopes to put the tension from the incident behindher.”Hopefully, they’ll better understand our role asjournalists,” she said. ”And hopefully there will be no hardfeelings because this wasn’t personal.”