CONNECTICUT — A university task force tapped to examine thefuture of Quinnipiac University’s student paper has recommended TheChronicle completely separate from the university in a year.
The private university’s administration created the task force in Januaryafter months of tension last year between Chronicle Editor in Chief JasonBraff and university president John Lahey. Braff publicly criticized universitymedia policies that say online articles cannot be posted before the printversions are published and administrators cannot speak with the press withoutthe school’s prior approval.
If Lahey approves the task force recommendations, the Chronicle willbe financially and editorially independent, and the university “will beeffectively freed of any liability in connection with its actions and theuniversity policies which currently apply to it as a university-supportedstudent organization will no longer apply,” according to a copy of therecommendations provided by the New Haven Register at the Student PressLaw Center’s request.
But it is not entirely clear if private universities are liable for theirstudent media, said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the SPLC. In December2004, a New York state trial court recognized that student papers at privateuniversities are separate from their universities in Doe v. New YorkUniversity. The ruling ordered that a restraining order against the schoolby two sexual assault victims to keep their names from being used by NYU couldnot be applied to the newspaper. Even though the school funded the paper, thecourt ruled the paper was not an affiliate of the university.
The task force, which included the senior vice president for academic andstudent affairs, the dean of students and the vice president for public affairs,also proposed establishing a transitional structure for the Chroniclenext year. A senior business student would be hired to be publisher/generalmanager of the paper and a temporary publishing board would be created to aidthe publisher in moving the paper toward independence, according to therecommendations. The task force did not specify who would choose the studentpublisher. The new structure would also allow the Chronicle to publishonline stories before the print versions hit the stands.
“By recommending that The Chronicle become independent and headed bya publisher with business experience, the task force’s hope was to create areal-world experience for our students,” said Lynn Bushnell, vice president forpublic affairs, in a statement. “Newspapers in the real world are headed bypublishers who have financial responsibility for the publication as well asfinal say over editorial content.”
But Braff, who is applying to be editor in chief again next year, is notquick to embrace full independence for the Chronicle and said editorswill have to ask more questions about the proposed student publisher. There arealso concerns about the paper, which is supported mostly by university funds,generating enough revenue to support itself.
“I think it’s going to be tough, definitely,” Braff said. “There’sdefinitely pros and cons to going independent.”
Bushnell told the New Haven Register that the university would helpthe Chronicle create a sound business plan and that the administrationdoes not want to see the paper fail. The task force has not given Chroniclestaffers a timeline as to when Lahey will decide on whether to approve therecommendations, Braff said.