Fla. college suspends paper after students fight for control

FLORIDA — When editors of a student newspaper at Manatee Community College informed school administrators about court rulings that upheld the First Amendment rights of student journalists at public colleges and universities, they thought it was the end of a three-month battle over editorial control of The Lance.

Instead, the editors received a letter in May from the administration calling for a review of the school’s journalism program and the suspension of The Lance for up to a year. 

Since February, editors struggled with administrators over access to the school’s financial records and the use of the college’s logo on their business cards. The situation climaxed in March when editors printed an article — without their adviser’s approval — criticizing the lack of student activities on campus.

Questions about whether the newspaper’s adviser could review content before it was published arose when students who had worked on other college newspapers transferred to MCC and expected to find the same setup, said MCC spokeswoman Kathy Walker. 

School officials said they would not offer the laboratory class in which the newspaper is produced until questions surrounding the role of the class instructor, who also serves as the newspaper’s adviser, are resolved. The class was offered to students at the college’s Bradenton and Venice campuses.

Sarah Zell, a Lance reporter, said the newspaper’s full-time adviser, Doug Osman, made it clear he wanted to see the articles before they were printed — and that he would not let students publish the newspaper if that did not happen.

“[The students] brought up some things we were not aware of and how case law in this matter has changed,” Walker said. “The more [the dean] looked into it, the more she became aware about how the laws have changed. It became obvious we needed to do a thorough review of the lab and the class attached to it.”

Osman and the dean who cancelled the class did not respond to requests for comment.

“If they decide to cancel [the class] and that’s it for this year, I would say at least give us a chance to publish the newspaper,” said Mike Gimignani, an editor at the paper. 

Although the newspaper is produced as part of a laboratory class, it is funded by student activity fees.

Art Brockway, adviser of the Metropolis and Falcon Times newspapers at Miami Dade College, said student journalists and advisers are greatly concerned about the actions of the administration at MCC.

“It’s an outrage,” he said. “The argument that the adviser should have prior review is against the ethics … to which all advisers should adhere.”

Brockway said it is the practice of many student newspaper staffs to show an adviser copy that might appear in the newspaper — but only for suggestions on how to improve the work.

“You don’t go over and edit, or proofread or censor — you make suggestions and you give advice like a good adviser does,” he said. “A college administration really can’t see the adviser’s job as one of, ‘You should see the paper so you can stop anything that puts the college, or the campus or the administration in a negative light.’ At that point, you no longer have an independent student press, you simply have a [public relations] rag for the administration.” 

Lynne Farber, adviser of The Observer at Broward Community College in Pembroke Pines, Fla., said it is important to recognize that the student press is not any different than any other newspaper, therefore student journalists should enjoy the same First Amendment rights.

“I think [the situation at MCC] sends a bad message,” Farber said. “[Student publications are] just as strong as [publications] outside of the college system.” 

MCC administrators are considering allowing the students to publish the newspaper outside of the journalism laboratory class as early as this fall.  

“Once a funding source is established — once that college decides to establish that newspaper and fund it pretty regularly — removing that funding is a form of censorship,” Brockway said. 

Brockway and Farber both are members of the Florida Community College Press Association.