Conn. editor meets with administrators on policies restricting paper's Web site, access to officials

CONNECTICUT – The editor in chief of The Chronicle,Quinnipiac University’s student newspaper, met with school officials lastweek to settle a long-running dispute over the newspaper’s ability topublish articles online, as well as the media’s access to schooladministrators.

Following a public war of words with university president John Lahey, JasonBraff, editor in chief of The Chronicle, met with administrators of theprivate university Nov. 28 to discuss a year-old policy mandating that online articlesbe posted only after their print version hits the stands. Braff also spoke withofficials about the university’s media policy, which bars administratorsfrom speaking with reporters – including student journalists -without prior approval from the school.

“I am a little optimistic because we are making some progress withthe administration,” Braff said. “We are talking about it, which isalways good.”

The tension between The Chronicle and university officials beganlast year, when an article involving the discipline of two basketball playersfor allegedly urinating in public sparked the Web publications policy.Administrators had not seen the article before they were contacted by localreporters asking about the incident.

Administrators contacted The Chronicle, and the two came to anagreement not to let online articles run until the print paper had beendelivered.

Braff was not editor at the time, but disagreed with the changenonetheless. The issue came to a head not long after Braff took office, when thenewspaper got word Aug. 30 about an incident involving a racial slur that waswritten on a dry-erase board on campus.

Braff contacted the administration to ask if he could post the story on thepaper’s Web site, as the print edition had yet to begin running for thesemester. School officials refused, citing the policy requiring the print andonline editions of The Chronicle to run at the same time.

The Chronicle reported that in a speech given beforeQuinnipiac’s student government Oct. 11, Lahey said the university’sjustification for the policy was to give administrators adequate time to respondto articles that may raise the attention of outside media sources.

“What was decided (last year) was that the electronic version would comeout at the same time as the hard-copy version so at least dinosaurs like me whoread the hard-copy version get an opportunity to read it before the externalworld hears about it,” Lahey said.

Lahey told people who attended the meeting he wanted dialogue on importantissues to be contained within the campus, rather than have stories picked up byoutside media via The Chronicle.

“So I guess the challenge for us now is how in today’s world we can reallyhave a good discussion with the students about important topics, but not have itbe a press conference to the world, where I have absolutely no control,” Laheysaid.

But the policy itself has drawn the media attention it sought to limit.The Republican American, a local commercial paper, ran an Oct. 30 articleabout free-speech issues across Connecticut in which Braff criticized thepolicy, calling it “ridiculous.” Braff also penned a Sept. 19editorial in The Chronicle criticizing the administration for orderingthe newspaper to hold the story about the racial slurs until the print editioncame out Sept. 12, almost two weeks later.

“The administration claimed they were protecting student rights. Arethey sure they didn’t mean self-image?” Braff wrote. “After theurination story broke loose last semester, the school claimed that TheChronicle used inaccurate reporting in its story. Although no inaccuracieswere ultimately found, the university still modified the policies under whichThe Chronicle is run.”

Because Quinnipiac is a private university, it is not bound by the samefree-speech protections as its public counterparts. The Chronicle is astudent club that is entirely funded by the university. Braff is paid an $8,000stipend for his role as editor.

In response to Braff’s remarks, Manuel Carreiro, theuniversity’s vice president and dean of student affairs, fired off aletter to Braff Nov. 2, warning the editor against making any further publiccomments critical of university rules.

“Please understand that any disregard for university or StudentCenter policies, or any public statement by you expressing disagreement withsuch policies, will seriously place your position and organization at risk withthe university,” Carreiro wrote to Braff, according to a Dec. 2 NewYork Times article.

Braff said he does not know why Carreiro sent the letter, as universitypolicy only bars administrators from speaking with the media without priorapproval.

Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs at Quinnipiac, said in ane-mail statement that it was not likely a student leader would be fired fordisagreeing with a policy.

“We do not discipline students who criticize the university or itspolicies,” Bushnell wrote. “We do discipline students who fail tofollow clearly established policies. However, student leaders, especially thosein paid positions, are expected to generally be supportive of the universitypolicies they are paid to enforce. If they disagree with established policies,we expect them to go through normal administrative channels to try to changepolicy.”

Bushnell’s response was nearly identical to her statement publishedin the New York Times article.

Bushnell said the Web publications policy, as well as the policy preventingadministrators from speaking with the media, is meant to insulate the universityfrom any mistakes made by The Chronicle in reporting.

“Many campus matters, particularly those relating to student judicialand disciplinary actions, may not be publicly discussed by universityadministrators,” Bushnell said. “If the student newspaper were to writea story on such a matter, the fact that the University could not provide morethan a cursory comment might in itself have the effect that one-sided andpotentially libelous stories find their way into print.”

Following his meeting with administrators, Braff said he is no longerworried about losing his job but would like to see any changes in policy enactedbefore The Chronicle‘s first edition of the Spring 2008 semester,which begins Jan. 30.

“Right now we are just kind of sitting back and waiting for things toplay out with the administrators, because we know that they are talking about itamongst themselves,” Braff said.