INDIANA — A college newspaper adviser was removed fromhis position of eight years after a yearlong struggle with administrators overcontent in the student newspaper.Michael Mullen, adviser of theTrailblazer, a student newspaper at Vincennes University, was told duringa performance evaluation on May 11 that he would be transferred to the school’sEnglish department, where he taught for six years prior to serving as adviser ofthe newspaper. He also served as head of the journalism program at the two-yearpublic university prior to his transfer.Mullen believes universityofficials’ objections to the newspaper’s content were a main factor in thedecision to dismiss him as adviser.”I allowed the staff to publisharticles that were embarrassing to the university and put a light on things theywould prefer were kept in the dark,” Mullen said.The controversy beganin 2003 when the newspaper published an April Fools’ Day issue that was not wellreceived by student leaders on campus. Mullen said students were seen stealingabout 1,800 copies of the issue. The newspaper also printedcontroversial stories about the low enrollment on campus, and whether theschool’s interim President John R. Gregg, former speaker of the Indiana House ofRepresentatives, was qualified for his position. “The editors and myselfwere called into a meeting with [Dean of Humanities Mary Trimbo], and she wasfurious,” Mullen said. “She thought the article about Gregg was biased andmisleading.”A day after Trimbo’s meeting with the Trailblazerstaff, she sent a memo instructing them not to publish another April Fools’ Dayedition of the newspaper. She also said “the First Amendment cannot be a shieldfor sloppy journalists who create sloppy products flawed with errors in logicand content.””I have no interest in censoring the newspaper,” she saidin the Sept. 4, 2003, memo, which was obtained by the Student Press Law Center.”On the other hand, I refuse to allow students to have a classroom experiencewhich is not of the highest level we can offer.”It later took studentsat the Trailblazer weeks to get a copy of the university’s budget.Student editors disregarded Trimbo’s demand and published another April Fools’Day edition this year. Students also printed an article alleging that universityofficials called off the investigation into the theft of the 2003 April Fools’Day edition. Mullen said the school attorney determined that stealing newspaperswas not considered theft.Duane Chattin, director of public informationfor Vincennes University, said the investigation was taken seriously by campuspolice, but the investigation ran its course and students were unavailable to beinterviewed for one reason or another.Chattin said the decision to moveMullen was made by Trimbo only because she had received a request to fill anopen position in the English department, not because of influence from theschool administration.”These decisions are made routinely at the dean’slevel,” Chattin said. “From an administration standpoint, there was a legitimatereason for the decision.”Trimbo did not respond to requests forcomment.Mullen believes he was removed from his position because herefused to censor his students.”In my evaluation, Trimbo criticized myhandling of the students and said I gave them too much freedom,” Mullen said.”She admitted that she knew that was my style and that I was prepared to givethem a lot more breathing room — and she didn’t like that.”Chattinsaid Vincennes University has a long history of allowing students to print whatthey want in the newspaper.”The longstanding practice is to allow thestudents to produce the newspaper, and only after the fact does the advisercritique the students,” he said. “If [Trimbo] is making a recommendation on thequality of the academic experience the students are supposed to receive atVincennes University, it would be her responsibility.”Mullen, who hastenure, is afraid that whoever is hired to replace him will feel pressure tocensor the newspaper because he or she will not be a tenured facultymember.”If you don’t have tenure, they can get rid of you for any reasonthey want,” Mullen said. “I think the last remaining free voice on campussuddenly is going to be a lot less free.”Matthew Berry, a graduate whowrote some of the controversial articles appearing in the Trailblazer,shares Mullen’s fear.”[Students] will be less likely to go after a bigstory if it’s negative,” he said. “When you’re dealing with 18-year-olds freshout of high school, the authority figure could have a lot of say.”Mullensaid students at the Trailblazer are planning to print a special editionof the newspaper in the next few weeks to inform the public about hisremoval.The university still is searching to fill Mullen’s formerposition.Mullen is one of three newspaper advisers to be removed fromtheir position in the last month because of alleged administrativeconcerns over newspaper content.
Read previous coverage
- Ind. editors allege student senate president stole April Fools’ edition News Flash, 4/8/2003
- Kan. university removes adviser after complaints about diversity coverage News Flash, 5/11/2004
- Kan. college drops adviser who refused demands to censor student paper News Flash, 5/3/2004