Wash. student newspaper editors punished after clash with adviser

WASHINGTON — Editors at Clark College’s student newspaper, TheIndependent, are facing disciplinary sanctions after attempting toparticipate in the hiring process for the newspaper’s student staffpositions.

Editor-in-Chief Audrey McDougal, Managing Editor Nick Jensen and Lead CopyEditor Amanda Martin-Tully received notice from newspaper adviser Dee Ann FinkenAugust 20 they were being punished for an incident that occurred the previousday when Martin-Tully and Jensen, with McDougal’s permission, attempted tosubstitute for McDougal in an interview process for TheIndependent‘s new business manager.

Finken had not returnedcalls by press time.

Selection of the newspaper’s editors has traditionally been a groupdecision by the student editorial staff, according to McDougal. However, thissystem changed with the arrival of Finken, who was hired this summer as aninterim adviser to replace former adviser Christina Kopinski. Kopinski wasdenied tenure for what she claims are retaliatory motives relating to thecontent of The Independent, and is contesting the decision. Thisyear’s editorial board was selected exclusively by Finken and McDougal,the only staff member allowed into the interview process. When McDougal couldnot attend one of the interviews, she notified Finken and sent Martin-Tully andJensen in her place. McDougal said she was concerned about the lack of studentcontrol over the editorial staff and Finken’s decision to allow only theeditor-in-chief to sit in on interviews.

“That didn’t sound like a student-run newspaper,”McDougal said.

When Martin-Tully and Jensen arrived for the interview, they barely madeit in the newsroom before they were escorted out by security.

“From what I understand, the situation was very hostile,”McDougal said.

The students were charged with violating sections 1.b and 1.c of the ClarkCollege Code of Student Conduct, which are charges of “disorderly, abusiveor bothersome conduct” and “failure to follow instructions,”respectively. McDougal and Martin-Tully were cleared of the alleged violationsof section 1.b following a hearing Sept. 1, but they were found guilty ofinfractions of section 1.c. All three editors were sentenced to disciplinaryprobation for one year. They must file written plans by Sept. 28 to Ray Korpi,dean of developmental education, English, communications and humanities,detailing how they plan to work cooperatively with Finken.

The three editors will work with Finken in not only the extracurricularnewspaper setting, but also in a classroom setting. All members of TheIndependent are required to be enrolled in at least one college creditcourse of journalism, and Finken is the sole journalism professor at ClarkCollege.

“It’s going to be difficult [working with Finken],”McDougal said. “I’m not expecting her to be welcoming.”

This is not the only clash that McDougal and Finken have had over staffingissues. On August 24, McDougal spoke with Finken about hiring a page designerfor the newspaper, a position that has been established in past quarters. Finkeninformed McDougal that the position would no longer exist. She also instructedMcDougal to figure out a way to provide salaries to reporters and photographers,traditionally unpaid positions, according to McDougal.

McDougal is appealing the disciplinary action and will be represented bySusan Alterman of Folawn, Alterman and Richardson LLP, based in Portland, Ore.Jensen and Martin-Tully are also considering appealing the probation, accordingto Jensen.

“I think that Clark has missed a wonderful teaching moment,and made a colossal mistake, by punishing students for trying to help run anewspaper that they were appointed to manage,” Alterman said in ane-mail.

Because of the incident, the selection of TheIndependent‘s business manager was taken out of McDougal’shands and turned over solely to Finken and Korpi.

Asserting authority overstaff selections can be considered a form of censorship and a violation of thestudent journalists’ rights, according to Student Press Law CenterExecutive Director Frank LoMonte.

“Making personnel decisions is part of editorial control,”said LoMonte.

In addition to disagreeing over staffing procedures, Finken has barredThe Independent from publishing until they complete a three-weekjournalism boot camp, set to begin after the start of the school year Sept. 21.

The College Media Advisers (CMA) and the SPLC have sent letters of concernto the school, asking it to revise its editorial policy with TheIndependent.

In the letter to addressed to Korpi, LoMonte strongly urged him toreconsider the recently increased degree of administrative oversight of TheIndependent.

“Besides being illegal, heavy-handed control of college studentpublications is widely recognized both as unethical and as an unsoundeducational practice that deprives students of valuable learningopportunities,” LoMonte wrote. “The editors responsible for theIndependent are all legally adults. They are old enough to drive cars,purchase firearms, sign contracts, get married, vote, serve on juries, and strapon rifles and die for their country. They are certainly old enough to decidewhich student would make the best layout editor.”

For More Information:

  • Clark College Board of Trustees refuses newspaper adviser tenure News Flash, 06/16/2009