Adviser says college will not renew his contract for standing up for student press

ILLINOIS — HarperCollege in Palatine will not renew student newspaper adviser Dann Gire’scontract after it expires today, and Gire said he thinks he knowswhy.

”Every year that I didn’t have a run-in with thevice president, I was re-appointed faculty adviser,” said Gire, who hasbeen advising The Harbinger studentnewspaper since 2000. ”The year I did have one, I’m fired fourmonths later. Coincidence?”

Michael Nejman, director of studentaffairs at the two-year community college, allegedly broke the news to Gire at a brief meeting in earlyJune. Gire described the meeting as ”very cordial” and said Nejmaninformed him The Harbinger would begoing in a ”new direction.”

Nejman did not respond to requests for comment.

After a fall semester that included thepublication of a photograph from a Muslim art exhibit of a woman’s exposedbreast and ensuing protests of the exhibit and the paper’s coverage, Giresaid Harper administrators decided to set some new guidelines for The Harbinger in February.

A copy of the guidelines, provided by Gire, mandates thatThe Harbinger editor in chief”observe common standards of decency,” and ”work closely withthe Student Activities staff … using their experience and advice” toimprove the journalistic quality of the paper.

The policy alsorequired the editor to promise to ”primarily focus on ‘Harpernews,’ over Chicago-area or national news.”

Gire said hefeared the new policy might expose the college to greater legal liability.Administrators demanded that the paper’s editor in chief sign a contractcomprised of the new guidelines, he said.

In an attempt to limit theschool’s liability, Gire said he redrafted the editor contract, in doingso removing wording that gave extra control to the student activities staff anddesignating the paper as a public forum. But after submitting the amendedpolicy, Gire said he received an ”abrupt” e-mail from Joan Kindle,Harper vice president for student affairs.

”If all partieshave signed the contract, it is in force,” said an e-mail Gire receivedfrom Kindle. ”I have been told that all parties have signed the contract.If you have some feedback in regard to future contracts, I would appreciate thatyou bring those to an appropriate meeting.”

Kindle did notrespond to requests for comment. However, according to Gire and

Harbinger editor in chief for thespring semester Jason Hopkins, all parties had not signed thecontract.

”By early March, [administrators] presented me withan ‘updated’ editor’s contract that attempted to give controlof content to the school,” Hopkins said in an e-mail. ”Afterdiscovering it violated basic Constitutional law, I destroyed the document and,when pressed by the administration, I refused to sign anythingfurther.”

Despite the fact that Hopkins never submitted thesigned contract, Gire said administrators told him that they would consider thedocument signed anyway and allowed Hopkins to finish out thesemester.

Gire said he thinks his ouster is part of a broader plan toeliminate The Harbinger. He said thecollege has yet to name a replacement adviser and has rejected hisrecommendations for editor and managing editor in the fall.

Phil Burdick, a spokesman for the college, said administrators are looking for a new adviser and hope to find one by early September at the latest. He said if they meet their goal it is conceivable that the paper will publish again in the fall.

Burdick declined to comment on either the reason for Gire’s dismissal or the new guidelines, citing ”personnel matters.”

”I knew there were new guidelines, but as far as specifics go, that might be related to Mr. Gire’s employment, and that’s something I can’t comment on,” Burdick said. ”I don’t know if it’s related or not related.”

Gire said if something is not done soon he fears the paper might just disappear.

”I stopped to smell the roses and the roses were smellingpretty bad,” Gire said. ”I just think it’s atrociouswhat’s happened and it’s so quiet and such a controlled atmosphere;they’re getting away with it.”

As for Hopkins, he said he has already written The Harbinger offas a loss. He said that although he does not believe the students or the schoolcare about the paper any more, he would still like to see the papercontinue.

”I just don’t want to be involved with it anymore,” Hopkins said.