University of Montana sex column causes law professor to call for student newspaper to reevaluate hiring practices

MONTANA — A University of Montana law professor upset over content in the campusnewspaper’s sex column is calling on the paper to establish writtenguidelines for hiring and editorial decision-making.

Late last fall, the Kaimin began publishing UM senior BessDavis’ “Bess Sex Column,” which touches on topics fromFacebook-relationship statuses to sex toys to oral sex practices. Her writingstyle and content drew both positive and negative attention, the latter beingvoiced most vigorously by UM law Professor Kristen Juras.

In February, the Kaimin published a letter to the editor from Jurasin which she called the column “embarrassingly unprofessional” andsaid it affects her “reputation as a member of the faculty.” Jurashas since met with Kaimin Editor-in-Chief Bill Oram to relay her concernabout the paper’s hiring policies, saying she will “go through allof the administrative levels” to get the column stopped, according toOram.

“Let me assure you, I am not opposed to the publishing of a column onsexual topics,” Juras said. “I am opposed to the particular contentof [Davis’] column.”

Juras went on to say that, because the Kaimin is taxpayer- andtuition-funded, it necessarily has an educational purpose. In writing about sex,Juras said, the columnist should have some kind of expertise in the subject inorder to provide substantive, educational material.

“If you’re going to hire someone to write a column on legalissues, wouldn’t you look for someone with some background? A law studentmaybe? Does personal experience count as background?” Juras said.

In her debut column, Davis opened with a disclaimer that she is not a”sexpert,” but has simply “been at this for awhile now”and wants to enjoy writing about it as much as she does having it and talkingabout it.

According to Oram, demanding expertise from a writer before granting hercolumn inches in the college newspaper is simply not viable.

“We have a lot of college students who give their opinion on topicsthey aren’t necessarily experts in … to add to the conversation andspark debate,” he said. “We’re in pursuit of our degrees here,so to expect us to be experts in any area is unrealistic.”

In response to Juras’s premise that, as a student newspaper, theKaimin’s purpose is primarily educational, Oram said she is “simplywrong.”

“Of course educating future journalists is part of it, but thisisn’t ‘practice,'” he said. “Our primary job is tocover the University of Montana.”

And for Oram, part of covering UM is allowing for a column that explores anissue relevant to a majority of the campus community.

“You tell [Juras] that if she can prove that college studentsaren’t having casual sex, we’ll stop talking about sexcasually,” he said.

Still, Juras maintains that some of the content of Davis’ columnsdoes not fulfill an educational purpose, and the hiring of employees like Davisshould be subject to guidelines that ensure the writers are opining on topics inwhich they have some training.

Further, the newspaper would be wise to publish a counterpoint column toDavis’, Juras said, as the “Bess Sex Column” generallyadvocates a hook-up culture.

“Can we have another one advocating something else?” shesaid.

Juras told Oram she would appeal to the Associated Students of theUniversity of Montana to step in if the column continued to run as is, and ifthe Kaimin did not proceed with establishing hiring and publishingguidelines.

“That’s a fight I’m willing to welcome,” Oram saidin response. “It might just help some other sex columnist or some othereditor in the future.”

According to Trevor Hunter, Associated Students of the University ofMontana president, Juras contacted him for the names of ASUM Publications Boardmembers as well as the Kaimin‘s yearly budget.

As for ASUM stepping in to stop the sex column or demand hiring policychanges, Hunter said it is not in ASUM’s discretion to do so.

“[T]he ASUM Publications Board does not and will not, as provided forin Regents policy, exercise editorial oversight over the Kaimin,”Hunter said in an e-mail. “The Kaimin is funded by its own fee($4/semester) and is not an agency of ASUM — the only connection betweenthe Kaimin and ASUM is through the Publications Board, which exercises nodiscretionary oversight over the Kaimin other than the annual appointmentof the Kaimin Editor and Business Manager.”