Fla. student government backs off threats against student newspaper adviser

FLORIDA— Thanks to intense coverage from local media and support from journalists and others on campus, Florida Atlantic University journalism adviser Michael Koretzky narrowly avoided a $6,000 fine and a suspension ordered by the student government, which claimed Koretzky violated ethics guidelines.

The two allegations of ethical violations, Koretzky said, occurred six months and one year ago, when the editor selection committee was choosing a new editor in chief for the University Press student newspaper. Koretzky said he changed the committee selection process so he had less control over the committee.

“I broke a rule to give myself less power,” he said. “No one complained at the time.”

The student government, Koretzky said, considered this an ethical violation because Koretzky’s actions violated the school policy for selecting an editor in chief.

Rick Smith, co-executive editor of the Press, said the power struggle between the paper and the student government started when the student government gave its officers a 25 percent pay raise in October, without a public announcement. The paper immediately began to investigate the matter, making the student government uncomfortable, Smith said.

Co-executive editor Lily Ladira said when she tried to interview student government president Alvira Khan, Khan refused to be interviewed.

“I was just trying to find out if there was a story,” Ladira said. She said this was the first time she had gotten such a response from a member of the student government.

Khan could not be reached for comment.

Smith said Student Government Controller Mike Hallenstein then threatened to freeze the paper’s payroll. He also said the student government was considering shutting down the student newspaper because they had not been holding their student government-mandated 20 office hours per week.

“[Hallenstein] decided he was backed into a corner” due to the salary increase investigation, Smith said. “A wounded animal in a corner is more dangerous than [he was] before.”

But Hallenstein said his recommendation to freeze the paper’s payroll and the paper’s investigation had nothing to do with each other. He said two former Press writers had filed grievances against the Press, saying the editors and adviser were in the office less than 20 hours during the week.

Instead of the fine and suspension for violating the editor in chief selection process, Koretzky will receive a written reprimand from the University-Wide Council, a panel made up of student government leaders.

The University-Wide Council disciplinary hearing on Dec. 3 to determine Koretzky’s punishment began at 6:30 p.m. and lasted for an hour, Koretzky said, but the deliberations ended at 1:30 a.m. Koretzky, his students and local reporters sat in on the deliberations, despite being ordered to leave by the student government.

After six hours of deliberation the University-Wide Council decided not to fine Koretzky and instead gave him a letter of reprimand.

Koretzky said the timing of the complaints was very suspicious, since he had not heard any negative comments about his office hours or editor selection at the time. Next, Koretzky said, the student government froze the editor selection process, which was supposed to occur on Nov. 5., then decided to impose a potential fine and suspension on Koretzky to be deliberated on Dec. 3.

Koretzky said he has a meeting with student affairs officials this week to begin to change the way the paper is funded. He said a situation in which the student government does not control the paper’s funding would be better for all parties.

However, the threat to freeze the paper’s budget is still present. According to Koretzky, the student government is trying to monitor whether all Press staff members are working 20 hours in the office per week, because the student government members work 20 office hours per week. Koretzky said the rule does not make sense for staff such as photographers who must be outside of the office to do their work.

On the day of the hearing, Florida Atlantic University benefactor Edward Shoaf gave the paper $5,000 to express his outrage at the situation, Koretzky said. Koretzky said the university put the money into an account that the student government cannot control.

The Press staff issued another request on Dec. 6 for public records of the student government’s salary raises.

Although Koretzky was satisfied with the outcome of the hearing, he said he does not anticipate that problems between the student government and the paper are finished.

“I don’t think this is over yet,” Koretzky said. “I just think the hard part is over.”