CONNECTICUT — Fairfield University professors say they will investigate what they are calling a censorship incident when administrators pulled an orientation issue of The Mirror, the school’s student newspaper, from news stands in June.
The Mirror reported Deidre Eller, former director of new student programs, asked to have copies of the paper removed from the stands. The paper also reported administrators were questioning the content of the paper’s “He said/She said” section and an opinion article called “Words of wisdom from a newly minted sophomore.” The articles provided tips on surviving college and described the lifestyle of a student. The “He said/She Said” section included two authors’ observations of the opposite sex.
It is uncertain whether Eller acted on her own accord or other university officials were involved, said James Simon, adviser of The Mirror. Simon said Eller is no longer working at Fairfield University.
Mark Reed, the vice president of student affairs, said he had no prior knowledge of the papers being removed but that he is the only one who has the authority to do so.
“Another administrator, acting without my knowledge nor my authorization, had the copies of a special orientation issue removed from circulation based on what she believed to be her authority given the special nature and timing of that issue,” he said.
Reed also said the incident was not a matter of censorship, but a misunderstanding. But he would not confirm whether the administrator he was referring to was Eller.
“When it was brought to my attention, I responded that only I could make a decision about the university’s subscription,” Reed said. “[I] reinforced our long-held premise and practice that permits the student editors total control over the paper’s content, and indicated that I was not asked to nor did I authorize the pulling of a portion of that special issue’s print copies.”
About 1,000 copies were removed and the newspaper suffered loss in ad revenues, Simon said, but the incident was “larger than economics.” Outraged professors say that the university acted in direct violation of a new policy ensuring academic freedom on campus.
Faculty members argue that the new policy prohibits the university, which is a private Catholic school, from removing any materials unless they violate a law or the school’s harassment policy. Richard DeWitt, a philosophy professor, said the new rule is “crystal clear” and that faculty members are especially concerned by the administrator’s decision to pull the orientation issues.
Last year, the university also cancelled a forum on same-sex marriage, causing protest among students and faculty who supported academic freedom and a student’s right to free speech, DeWitt said.
After the cancellation, a subcommittee within the Academic Council, the governing body of the university’s general faculty, released a report stating that “as citizens, students should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and right of petition that other citizens enjoy.” The report also recommended that the university create a policy ensuring these rights. The recommendations were eventually approved by both faculty and the administration.
“No one can do what happened this summer,” DeWitt said. “One important part of the campus experience is free speech.”
Ryan Blair, editor in chief of The Mirror,declined to comment on the incident, stating the newspaper is trying to work out the situation internally.
DeWitt said there has only been speculation as to why the newspapers were removed.
“My understanding is when you have parents coming in, freshman coming in, you’re putting your best face forward,” DeWitt said.
The Academic Council will discuss the incident in their October meeting, DeWitt said. Not enough students are aware of the university policy guaranteeing their rights to free speech and academic freedom, he said.
“There seems to have been not enough response from students initially,” DeWitt said. “There’s a need to educate them, and I’m not sure that they know they have these rights.”