Fla. student newspaper avoids newsroom lockout

FLORIDA — The student newspaper at Florida Atlantic University has averted a three-week newsroom lockout, which the student government last week threatened to impose beginning today — the latest in an ongoing saga between the University Press and the school’s student government leaders.

The relationship between the newspaper and the staff has been tenuous since the University Press began reporting in November about a retroactive pay raise the student government leaders awarded themselves.

University Press adviser Michael Koretzky said that on Monday, Dec. 13 the student body president, Alvira Khan, ordered the newspaper staff to turn over the keys to the newsroom by Dec. 20. Khan told Koretzky that since employment contracts for the paper’s staffers had not been signed by an editor in chief, the staffers could not have keys to the office. The employment contracts were not signed because the editor in chief selection process was suspended by the student government in November, Koretzky said.

A meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 15, between Koretzky, Khan, University Press co-executive editor Lily Ladira and Dean of Student Affairs Leslie Bates went well, Koretzky said, and resolved the problem of the reporters being barred from the newsroom for not having signed contracts.

Student government now will issue University Press staffers employment contracts that will expire on Feb. 9, Khan said. By that time, an editor in chief will have been selected to sign extended contracts. The editor in chief selection will occur on Jan. 21. A confirmation hearing in front of the University-Wide Council — a group of student government leaders — will take place Feb. 4.

Ladira, the paper’s co-executive editor, said she could not help but think the threat of a lockout was a move by student government to punish the paper for reporting the student government pay raises. Earlier this month FAU’s student government tried to fine and suspend Koretzky for altering the editor in chief selection process, which student government claimed amounted to ethical violations. After campus outcry and publicity in local media, Koretzky averted the fine and suspension but was reprimanded by the student government.

“I’m just happy that we had a meeting and some things seem to be resolved and so another problem was handled,” Ladira said. “I’ve been here a year and I’ve never had so many problems, boom boom boom, one right after the other. So it just seems a little too coincidental to me to think that this isn’t retaliatory.”

But Khan said that all student groups whose contracts were expired were expected to turn in their office keys.

“There’s no singling out of one person or one agency or one organization,” Khan said. “If you don’t have a contract and you’re not an employee, then you can’t have a key to the office.”

Khan said she worked with the University Press to ensure that Florida Atlantic University students would have a newspaper when they return from the holiday break on Jan. 10. The newspaper will begin working on three issues over the break and publish the first on Jan. 10.

“I decided for the betterment of the students, the betterment of the student government even, that we need to get a spring issue out there for the students when they come back to school in the spring,” Khan said. “By extending contracts, we gave [the University Press] the leeway that they needed.”

The office of student affairs issued a statement after Wednesday’s meeting, which read in part, “We are pleased that through collaborative efforts, the university administration, the University Press and the student government were able to come to an arrangement that will allow the student newspaper to meet its mission and produce its January editions as regularly scheduled. … It is a position of the university that First Amendment rights have been preserved and all policies have been followed. We will now work together to ensure that the mission of the university is met.”

Koretzky said that after the events of the past two months, the office of student affairs has expressed an interest in ending the student government’s authority over the University Press. However, Koretzky noted, Florida statutes give student governments an inordinate amount of control over university newspapers. Ironically, the statutes were designed in the 1970s to protect student journalists from overzealous university administrators, he said.

“The administrators aren’t the enemy of the student newspaper anymore,” Koretzky said. “The enemy has been the students across the hall and those laws originally meant to protect student journalists are now being used against them.”

–Campbell Roth

Read previous coverage:Fla. student government backs off threats against student newspaper adviser News Flash, 12/8/2004