Two college newspaper advisers are considering legal action against schooladministrators because they believe they were removed from their positions forrefusing to censor students.In Indiana, school administrators atVincennes University removed the eight-year adviser of theTrailblazer, a student newspaper, after a yearlong struggle over content inthe publication.Trailblazer adviser Michael Mullen was toldduring a performance evaluation in May that he was being transferred to thepublic university’s English department, where he taught six years prior toserving as newspaper adviser.Although administrators at the publicuniversity told Mullen they were transferring him because they needed to fill avacancy, he believes the newspaper’s content was a main factor in theirdecision.”I allowed the staff to publish articles that were embarrassingto the university and put a light on things they would prefer were kept in thedark,” Mullen saidThe former adviser is in talks with a lawyer over apossible lawsuit against the university.Duane Chattin, director ofpublic information for Vincennes University, said the university has a longhistory of allowing students to print what they want in the newspaper, and thedecision to transfer Mullen was legitimate.”Only after the fact does theadviser critique the students,” Chattin said. The university began itssearch for Mullen’s replacement at the beginning of the summer, and confirmed inJuly the position has been filled.Mary Trimbo, dean of humanities atVincennes University, would not say whether content in the Trailblazerwas a factor in Mullen’s transfer.”[Mullen] was hired as an Englishprofessor, he was tenured as an English professor and his area of expertise isEnglish,” Trimbo said. “[Mullen] was moved back to his department when therewas an opening there. He was never tenured in journalism.”Mullen’sreplacement, Mark Stalcup, was an outside applicant with degrees in journalism,English and law. He also specializes in the study of media law, Trimbosaid.Controversy at the Trailblazer began in 2003 when itpublished an April Fools’ Day issue that was not well-received by studentleaders on campus, who were caught stealing about 1,800 copies of theissue.The newspaper also printed controversial articles about the lowenrollment on campus, and whether the university’s interim President John R.Gregg, former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, was qualified forhis position.In a memo to the Trailblazer staff in September,Trimbo told Mullen and student editors they could not print another April Fools’Day edition. She went on to state that the “First Amendment cannot be a shieldfor sloppy journalists who create sloppy products flawed with errors in logicand content.”Trimbo also said in the letter that she had no intent tocensor the newspaper, however, she refused to allow students to have a classroomexperience that was “not at the highest level the university couldoffer.”Student editors went on to print another April Fools’ Day issuein 2004, as well as an article accusing the administration of calling off theinvestigation into the theft of the previous year’s edition. Mullen saidthe university defended the accusation by saying that the school attorneydetermined that stealing free newspapers was not considered theft. He fears hisreplacement will feel pressure to censor the newspaper because he or she willnot be a tenured faculty member.In Kansas, administrators at BartonCounty Community College did not renew the contract of the adviser to theInterrobang, a student newspaper at the public school, in April becauseshe refused to censor student journalists, the adviser believes.JenniferSchartz, who also was also a professor at the school, was given no explanationfrom the college’s board of trustees as to why her contract was notrenewed.Schartz believes she was fired because she would not comply witha demand from the school’s lawyer that she not allow the newspaper to publish”personal attacks.”The demand came a day before the newspaper publisheda letter criticizing the school’s basketball coach, which was written by aformer basketball player who was cut from the team.The school’s lawyer,Randall C. Henry, said in the letter to Schartz that each newspaper has theability to set its own editorial policy. However, “since the college isresponsible for the content of the newspaper, it is the administration’sposition that letters of this type will not be printed,” the letter stated.”The administration has decided that no letters to the editor will bepublished which are by and large personal attacks upon other members of the[college] family,” the letter stated.Students asked the basketball coachfor a response to the letter, but he declined the opportunity. Schartzwrote a rebuttal to Henry’s letter, stating that public colleges cannot censorstudent publications, and colleges bear no legal responsibility for what theypublish.School administrators did not return requests forcomment.Schartz, who has more than 20 years of journalism experience,believes she was punished for not breaking the law for thecollege.Schartz is in talks with a lawyer over a possible lawsuitagainst the university.
Read previous coverage
- Ind. editors allege student senate president stole April Fools’ edition News Flash, 4/8/2003