N.D. high school newspaper adviser removed from position

NORTH DAKOTA — A North Dakota high school newspaperadviser said he has been removed from his position because school officialsdisagreed with the content of the publication and his leadershipphilosophy.

Jeremy Murphy, who advises both yearbook and newspaper at West Fargo HighSchool in West Fargo, N.D., said administrators removed him from his role asadviser of the Packer, the school’s paper, after questioning hisleadership.

“I felt the role of the adviser should be to advise,” saidMurphy, who has been at West Fargo for two years. “And they felt it shouldbe to control.”

So, roughly two weeks ago, school officials told Murphy they were findingsomeone else to fill the newspaper adviser role. He kept his assignment teachingsophomore English and his position as yearbook adviser.

During his time at West Fargo, administrators have voiced theirdissatisfaction with the paper’s content several times, Murphy said. Mostof officials’ concerns stemmed from student columns or editorial pieces,though a few news articles on issues students felt strongly about bothered themas well.

Murphy said officials did not give him specifics about his removal, butsaid he feels they had problems with the students’ coverage of sensitivetopics like the school’s recent switch to block scheduling. Murphy notedthe students always covered both sides of an issue, though administrators oftendisagreed with the critical side.

Emma DeJong, one of Murphy’s students, said officials were also upsetover an article on teacher morale, in which some teachers voiced their opinionson the school atmosphere.

Because the newspaper adviser position is a voluntary one, which the schoollikens to a sports coach, they can easily remove the adviser without muchreason, Murphy said.

District and school officials were not available this week, but declinedcomment to other news organizations.

The whole situation has bothered Murphy, a former reporter himself.

“It kind of alters my concept of what our purpose is aseducators,” Murphy said. “I thought I was giving students the skillsto succeed in the journalism profession beyond high school and, as it turns out,I was actually punished for teaching these students to beprofessionals.”

Recent West Fargo graduate Meagan McDougall, this year’sco-editor-in-chief, said the Packer staff is “extremelydisappointed” to lose Murphy’s guidance.

“He’s honestly the perfect adviser,” McDougall said.”He balances helping us look at every aspect of a story while alsostepping back and allowing us to explore it on our own.”

DeJong — who was the Packer‘s news editor untilgraduating this year — agreed with McDougall, citing Murphy’sleadership philosophy.

“He was the adviser, meaning that he wasn’t an editor and hewasn’t a writer, he just oversaw what we did,” she said.

Instead of taking editorial control over the publication, students saidMurphy drilled legal and ethical journalism lessons into their heads. McDougallnoted any new staff members go through a month of “boot camp,”learning everything from basic writing to student press laws and Supreme Courtcases.

DeJong created a Facebook group earlier this week to show support forMurphy. The page — called “Murphy’s Army,” which had 190members by Friday — asked students to express their concerns to schoolboard members and administrators.

The students are also trying to gain media attention, in hopes that schoolofficials will eventually reinstate Murphy. This week, they spoke on severalradio shows and the local nightly news.

Both DeJong and McDougall said school officials rehired a swimming coachthree years ago after community members complained the removal was hurting theprogram.

“Mr. Murphy is more than a teacher,” DeJong said.”He’s a man who cares so much about all of his students, wants us togo far and in my two years of newspaper, has pushed me and all the otherstudents to become the best journalists.”

Murphy noted the Packer recently won best overall school newspaperat the Northern Interscholastic Press Association’s state awards. Thisyear’s North Dakota Journalist of the Year also came from West Fargo — the first time the school has won the award.

“I’m really upset to see him go because I know how much we as astaff and as a paper have improved over the past two years,” McDougallsaid.

McDougall said she thinks school officials want an adviser who takes moreeditorial control over the paper, instead of Murphy’s hands-offapproach.

Both students said they would fight for Murphy’s rights because theyare confident he would fight for theirs.

“He is always supportive, and he will stand up for our paper untilthe end,” McDougall said. “He stood up for our paper until he gotremoved from his position because he is not going to compromise our rights asstudents in order to keep his job. I respect that a lot.”