Employee wrong to tear down student newspaper fliers, university says

VIRGINIA — Anewspaper editor used an early-morning stakeout to catch a university employeelast week in the act of tearing down fliers posted by newspaper staff that namedan alleged rape victim.

Will Coggin, editor ofThe Remnant, a student newspaper at theCollege of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., waited for more than two hoursin the chilly morning air before spying a university employee who removedseveral fliers from a communal posting board at about 7 a.m.

Cogginsaid when he ran up to the employee and confronted him about tearing down thefliers, the man said he had been instructed to remove ”foulmaterial.”

Coggin then followed the employee, snapping photoswith his digital camera as the man threw away a handful of fliers and retreatedto a campus facilities building. He said after he followed the man to hisoffice, peppering him with questions, the employee threatened to have himarrested if he did not leave the premises.

”My main thoughtwas that I needed to get necessary evidence on who he was and that he had taken[the fliers] down,” Coggin said. ”In my mind it was illegal andcertainly against school policy.”

The next day, collegepresident Gene Nichol sent an e-mail to William and Mary students and staff,saying he ”regretted” the incident and that the employee was wrongto remove the fliers.

”He acted in good faith, but the postingsconformed to the College’s guidelines and should not have beenremoved,” Nichol wrote.

Bill Walker, a spokesman for thecollege, said the facilities employee ”misinterpreted rules” aboutposted materials oncampus.

Remnant staff madethe fliers, Coggin said, to notify the highest number of students about thepaper’s ongoing coverage of an alleged rape that occurred at a sororityparty Oct. 28.

The flier included the name of the alleged victim,and said recent documents obtained by the newspaper revealed that she ”hadconsensual sex with a second individual in her residence that night, after shewas allegedly raped.” The flier directed students to the paper’s Website, which contains further coverage and links to court documents.

The paper’s interest in the story was piqued in late December,Coggin said, when criminal charges against the student accused of rape weredropped.

”We knew there was more to the story than what wastold by the school, which was little,” he said. ”Same with the localpress.”

Walker, the university spokesman, said the school was”fully aware and fully supportive” of the paper’s FirstAmendment rights, but that administrators had reservations about thenewspaper’s choice to publish the victim’s name.

”Our primary concern is that it will discourage victims in thefuture from coming forward and getting the help and support they need,”Walker said. ”But that doesn’t impact our obligations to the FirstAmendment.”

TheRemnant announced yesterday that it will be sponsoring a panel discussionin late March about the school’s response to sexual assault cases and itsjudicial process.

Coggin said the paper is still committed toinvestigating the facts of the rape case.

”People are not goingto get away with censorship,” hesaid.

by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer