Tempers cool at Univ. of Illinois, chancellor backs off threat to create rival paper

The chancellor at the University of Illinois has backed off comments he made earlier this month, suggesting a possible plan to start a second student newspaper on campus to compete with the Daily Illini and calling on the student newspaper’s editors to “examine their decision making” and “to do better.”

Chancellor Richard Herman told the Chicago Sun-Times that on three separate occasions the Daily Illini published material that was offensive to Jews or had elicited charges of anti-Semitism. Herman also told the newspaper about his comments to Daily Illini publisher Mary Cory, telling her he was considering funding an alternate publication or helping students distribute a different publication on campus.

But a meeting on Dec. 17 between Herman, Cory, outgoing Daily Illini editor Evan McLaughlin and incoming editor Amara Enyia went well, Cory said. She said she is confident Herman is no longer planning to fund an alternate paper and has no expectations or demands for the paper next semester.

Last spring a student columnist printed a quote by Ariel Sharon, saying he wanted to burn every Palestinian child. The quote has never been verified and Jewish groups deny the Israeli prime minister ever said it. The columnist later apologized for printing the quote. However, the Daily Illini printed the quote again in a letter to the editor in November.

The paper was under fire again in November when a cartoon that joked about Jewish bankers with large noses was placed in the paper. The cartoonist was suspended for a month and his editor, who McLaughlin said printed the cartoon accidentally, was suspended for two weeks.

After his initial statements about starting a second publication were published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Herman released a statement that read, “While I am personally distressed by these incidents and believe they caused unnecessary pain to some people, I value above all free debate, discussion, and robust consideration of many views. … In no way do I wish to censor the Daily Illini, which has long been an integral and responsible member of the campus community. But it is also my responsibility to challenge our student journalists to be deeply thoughtful about their work, which affects many thousands of people.”

The Daily Illini is published by the non-profit Illini Media Company and receives no funding from the university.

McLaughlin said that although it may have appeared as if the newspaper was deliberately printing the material, he attributed the incidents to “carelessness.” Enyia called the events “a series of unrelated mistakes.”

“[The chancellor] does understand that we are a student-run newspaper, so mistakes are bound to happen, and we are independent,” Enyia said. “So while we are glad to take advice from the university, we always will maintain our independence”