Adviser out of a job despite national support, student protest

NEW YORK — Alan Fischler has the support of a number of national organizations, but it looks like he is out of the job as adviser to the student newspaper at Le Moyne College.

College officials informed Fischler in November 2005 that his contract would not be renewed for the 2006-07 academic year because of “consistent publication of incorrect information, blatant grammatical errors and non-coverage of major campus events” in The Dolphin, the private college’s student newspaper, said Vice President for Student Development Shawn Ward.

Since November, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Association of University Professors have come out in support of Fischler, asking the college to reinstate him. College Media Advisers has censured the college and Dolphin staff halted publication in protest of the administrators’ decision.

But Ward said reaction from groups like FIRE and CMA has not changed the administration’s decision to get rid of Fischler. Ward maintained that he would not be reinstated as adviser. 

“Up until now we’ve kind of been hopeful that we could work things out, but we’re slowly coming to the realization that’s just not going to happen. The administration is not going to give us [Fischler] back. It’s a sad state of things,” Dolphin editor in chief Andrew Brenner said.

However, Brenner said he suspects there were alternative reasons behind the decision.

“The administration had maintained from the beginning of all this that this was about quality, but we knew behind all of this was a content-based decision,” Brenner said. 

He said he thought the administration was unhappy about a weekly satire column that ran in the paper as well as an article about funding cuts to the physics department.

“Things went stale the second half of the semester, we kept meeting with the administration and kept talking with them and nothing happened,” Brenner said. “I think they have become more stubborn and as a result, things have gotten so polarized to the extent that now we can’t even be in the same room.” 

Stop the presses

In what he described as a “bold move,” Brenner and the staff of The Dolphin voted unanimously in November of last year to halt publication in protest.  Brenner said the following week, the paper issued a letter detailing the paper’s grievances as well as a few protest issues of the paper that only included letters from community members, staff members and Fischler himself.

“We needed to somehow relay our message to the campus and make everyone understand why we were so outraged at the administration’s decision,” Brenner said. “We felt that simply writing it in the newspaper would not be as effective as halting publication.”

Ward said the college would like to see The Dolphin resume publication in the fall.

“The college respects the actions of the students, [however] the college … the Student Senate and other student groups would like to see The Dolphin published,” Ward said.

Brenner said he does not regret the decision to stop publishing. However, former CMA President Mark Witherspoon said if students find themselves in a similar situation, he would not advise them to stop publication.

“If you have to fight a battle, make sure it’s fought in public,” Witherspoon said. “You publish stories about it. You need to, as a journalist, go find out what the real motives are and do that story fair, complete and accurate. Then editorialize on your opinion and make sure that other media in your town or city know about it.”

Witherspoon said that does not mean students cannot still find their own way to protest.

“You can still do protest demonstrations. Depending on the student body and the student government you can have all kinds of rallies for free speech and freedom of the press,” Witherspoon said.

Looking toward the future

The battle is starting to take its toll on Brenner, who said he suspects standing up against the administration may cost him his job as editor of the paper.

Administrators “will do things by all means necessary to accomplish whatever it is they want to do. I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll go after me and probably other people on my staff as well,” Brenner said.

Ward did not comment on the status of Brenner’s job, but did say, “the Student Senate is working with both The Dolphin editorial board and the college administration to bring closure to this issue and prepare for publication of the school paper.”

Brenner said it is frustrating “fighting an uphill battle” and that he was upset that faculty members had not offered to help.

“To just kind of see them stand by and do nothing when a group of students is attacked and when one of their colleagues has been attacked, is pretty appalling,” Brenner said. “It would have been nice to see some support from the faculty and unfortunately that didn’t happen.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen a month from now, let alone a year from now. Ideally [the next editor] would be a person with [my] mindset who would follow what we started, but I just don’t know. It’s tough to say.” 

Similar situations

Nearing 10 months of protest, Brenner was full of advice for students who may find themselves in similar situations.

“Follow what you know to be true. People are always going to offer their take on things and what they think you should do, but you yourself have to be sure of what you’re doing,” Brenner said. “It is not easy going up against an administration. You have to know they are going to do everything in their power to undermine you and your work, but don’t stoop to their level.”

Brenner added the most important thing a student journalist can do in a similar situation is to remember that they are, in fact, a student.

“Remember that you have a life, it was easy for me to get completely wrapped up in everything and at times I forgot that I had other things that were also important; such as class and sleep,” Brenner said. n