Md. media adviser's contract not renewed after students fail to meet with officials over stories

MARYLAND — A Maryland university refused to renew a studentmedia adviser’s contract after students did not come forward with informationthey used in a series of stories detailing the misuse of student funds.

On June 19, an official from Morgan State University in Baltimore sentmedia adviser Denise Brown a letter explaining that although she had “helped tosignificantly improve the quality of life” for students and faculty, hercontract would not be renewed.

The letter followed a June 12 memorandum in which the Floyd Taliaferro III,director of the university student center and student activities, informed Brownthat renewal of her contract would depend on whether or not his demand to meetwith students was met.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Brown, who said she is considering legalaction.

According to the memo, Vice President for Student Affairs Ricardo Perryrequested in February to meet individually with four reporters from theSpokesman in connection with stories that were published in that month’sissue. It went on to state that a meeting was set up, but no one attended.

The stories, three of which were editorials, questioned the handling ofstudent government funds including inaccuracies in the budget. In one story, Spokesman reporter Reginald Larkin quoted an unnamed SGA source that saidthe university’s administration withheld records of “peculiar” monetarytransactions from the public.

Following the June 12 memorandum, Brown sent a letter on her students’behalf asking for a group meeting but never heard back.

“We knew of no such meeting,” said Brown. “None of the persons in theletter were notified of the meeting.”

Brown, who is a 2002 MSU graduate, began advising Promethean, theschool’s yearbook in 2003. In 2005, Brown also took over advising the studentnewspaper, the Spokesman.

According to Brown, during her time at the university she has neverreceived an evaluation.

Brown has since contacted College Media Advisers for help. Chris Evans, CMAlead investigator for the case said he is nearing the end of his preliminaryinvestigation and waiting for a response from the administration.

Evans, citing the June 12 memo, said he has not seen a case like this with clear evidence that the administration removed the adviser based on student content. He said that it is possible the university violated both the students’ rights as well as those of the adviser.

“I do believe that Denise is being held liable for actions of herstudents,” said Evans. “It’s just not looking good for Morgan State.”

Brown said that in addition to fighting for her job, she is concerned abouthow her students will fare while she is gone.

“They are continually in violation with the students,” said Brown. “My realconcern is that while the students are trying to fight in my absence, there isnowhere on that campus for the students to go. Their only recourse is to seeklegal counsel and a public outcry.”

Kevin Smith, editor-in-chief of the Spokesman, said that Brown’sremoval has proven, at least to him, the intentions of the administration.

“I feel like it’s an outright blatant move on their part to try and hinderus as to what we’re trying to do as a paper,” said Smith. “I almost feellike they think we are unnecessary or not needed.”

According to Smith, Evans and Brown, the university has temporarily placedNatasha Lewis in Brown’s stead. Lewis is also assistant coordinator for theoffice of Student Activities.

“We’ve taken a great hit having Lewis inthe position,” said Smith.

Taliaferro referred the SPLC to the university’s public relations officefor comment. However, no calls were returned by press time.