College media group censures Md. university over adviser's firing

MARYLAND — A national journalism organization censured aMaryland university July 23 after the school failed to renew the newspaper andyearbook adviser’s contract.

The College Media Advisers Board of Directors voted to censure Morgan StateUniversity in Baltimore after an investigation conducted by theorganization.

CMA works with both professional and educational media organizationsthroughout the country. The organization adopted the “Adviser AdvocatePolicy” to extend help to member advisers and establish a formal processfor dealing with situations like Morgan State. The university is the the eighthschool to be censured since the policy was put into place in 1998.

CMA issues censures through the policy after investigation and offersmediation. Once a school is censured however, the institution must comply with aseries of demands to get the sanction removed. As part of the censure, CMA sendsout press releases to local, state and national media informing them of theschool’s alleged misconduct.

CMA found “legally questionable” practices were used againststudent journalists and adviser Denise Brown according to a letter sent by CMAto university President Earl Richardson.

Among other concerns, CMA officials objected to the university’sreplacement for Brown according to the letter. Natasha Lewis’ appointment toBrown’s position posed problems for students because she has no journalismtraining and has an “assumed” allegiance to an administrator criticized by thenewspaper according to the letter. Lewis works under Taliaferro as an assistantcoordinator in the office of student activities.

Also, CMA stated it is concerned the administration is retaliating againstBrown for the speech of her students.

In an e-mail obtained by CMA, university Vice President for Student AffairsRicardo Perry suggested that while Brown’s removal was not based entirelyon the work of her students, their performance was a factor.

CMA President Ken Rosenauer called the e-mail a “smoking gun”and said “there was little doubt along the development of this situationthat administrators were unhappy with the way the newspaper criticizedthem.”

Rosenauer said in the letter CMA offered to send an adviser advocate tohelp “defuse” the situation and act as mediator but the organizationhas not received a reply.

According to the censure letter, the school must meet three criterionbefore the organization will work to remove the censure. CMA requests that Brownbe reinstated to her original role, the school adopt policies ensuring studentswill not face prior review and that there be written guidelines for theperformance of journalism advisers.

Brown’s troubles began when Floyd Taliaferro III, director of theuniversity student center and student activities, wrote a memorandum June 12informing Brown that renewal of her contract was contingent on his meeting withreporters from the school’s newspaper, the Spokesman, aboutpublished stories.

The stories, three of which were editorials, questioned the handling ofstudent government funds including inaccuracies in the budget.

A week later, another university official sent Brown a letter explainingthat although she had “helped to significantly improve the quality of life” forstudents and faculty, her contract would not be renewed.

Chris Evans, CMA adviser advocate, said the organization has done all itcan and it is waiting to hear back from the university.

“I would hope Morgan State would contact us and work with us to remove thecensure,” said Evans who investigated the case. “We want to help themimprove.”

For More Information:

  • Md. media adviser’s contract not renewed after students fail to meet with officials over stories News Flash, 7/13/2009