Mascot controversy leads to ‘no note taking’ policy at Wisconsin university

Staff of Marquette University’s student newspaper and student TV station were prohibited from taking notes during the university’s mascot nickname forum – a restriction students say they were not informed of beforehand.

According to Kim Kaiser, managing editor of the Marquette Tribune, the school switched its mascot from the Warriors to the Golden Eagles about 12 years ago because the name was not perceived as “politically correct.”

At the 2004 commencement, graduate and keynote speaker Wayne Sanders offered more than $1 million for the private university to change the mascot back to the Warriors. Kaiser said although the university did not accept the money, it still planned to change the mascot.

When the board of trustees met during the fall semester to discuss changing the mascot, students began asserting their opinions about what the name should be, Marquette University TeleVision general manager Jenna Santoianni said. Four public forums were organized by the student government and the public affairs office.

Tribune Editor in Chief Jen Haberkorn said although the student government and the paper had always had an “adversarial relationship,” she was under the impression the two entities had set ground rules for the forum, including letting the paper cover the meeting.

But when the Tribune reporter started taking notes, the moderator stopped the meeting and told her she was not allowed to, Haberkorn said.

Kaiser said she was not sure why the nickname forum was meant to be such a hushed affair. “[The office of public affairs and the student government] told us people would be saying things that were emotional issues and didn’t want to be concerned that what they were going to say was going to be in the paper,” she said.

University officials did not return calls for comment.

Santoianni said the mascot nickname was a sensitive topic because the former Warriors logo was a profile of a Native American. She said the school was planning to bring in Native American speakers to talk about how the former university mascot would be offensive if reinstated.

“This was an open meeting and I feel as student media, we had a right to be there,” Santoianni said. “Anyone who goes to an open forum like that can expect to have their opinion really heard; that includes being covered by student media.”

SPLC View: Legally, there is not much that to be done at a private school like Marquette to require that reporters be allowed to cover an otherwise “public” meeting. Practically, however, one hopes that a little publicity will remind student government and university officials that there is, nevertheless, a price to be paid for acting in such a silly manner.