WASHINGTON — The sole journalism professor at Clark College inVancouver, Wash., was denied tenure last week by the school’s Board ofTrustees, effectively firing her by June.
Christina Kopinski, 30, received a faculty committee recommendation for tenure by a vote of 3-0 with one abstention, but was then denied her job security by board members who, she said, have yet to provide her with a reason for denial.
Kopinski suspects board members are unhappy with the investigative approachshe teaches in her journalism classes and encourages at the student newspapershe is adviser to, the Independent. Hired to develop a journalism programat the college, Kopinski teaches every journalism course, advises the studentnewspaper and has been working to establish a journalism certificatecurriculum.
“I’ve asked repeatedly to see my tenure file, and they have notgiven it to me,” she said. “It’s like they’re sending amessage. All I’m doing is what my job description says and doing whatI’m supposed to do to gain tenure. The way it looks to me is theyhaven’t been able to get me to quit so this is the only way to get rid ofme.”
Kopinski cited several stories in the Independent critical of thecollege that have upset school officials in the past. One such story drewattention to nearly 200 campus fire extinguishers out of code and resulted inthe city fire marshal threatening a fine of $200 per extinguisher if the unitswere not brought up to code.
“I encourage them to go after stories to find out if there is reallya story there,” she said. “I encourage them to get backgroundinformation and fact check. I encourage them to do interviews to get a balancedstory. I don’t go looking for this stuff. They do.”
When school officials tell her that students should not be reporting onissues that are potentially damaging to the college’s reputation, Kopinskisaid, she responds that it is not in her purview to dictate what the paper canand cannot cover.
“I say that there are administration policies that do not allow me tocensor,” she said. “I’ve been encouraging people to talk tothe students if they have a problem with a story. [School officials] are veryparanoid of any kind of criticism.”
Kopinski, along with the faculty union, is currently pursuing a grievanceprocess with the school. Members of the faculty union and other colleagues ofKopinski have told several news outlets there is nothing in her performancereviews that would justify denying tenure.
Student editors have also stood in support of Kopinski, who they say issuffering unfair blame for administrators’ grievances with theIndependent.
“I feel like they’re using her as a way to kind of scareus,” said Audrey McDougal, Independent editor in chief.”She’s been so supportive of us. She’s been a crusader forfree speech for us. We’re afraid they’ll shut the program down orhire a professor that isn’t tenured that they can compel to intimidateus.”
Clark College President Bob Knight is out of town and not available forcomment, but told the Columbian that the student newspaper “had nothing to do with the [tenure] decision. It didn’t even enterthe process.”
Sherry Parker, board of trustees chair, also told the Columbianshe was comfortable with the outcome of the board’s tenuredeliberations.