SPJ, SPLC voice concern over FAU’s attempts to prevent former adviser’s newspaper involvement

Leading journalism groups are weighing in to support Florida Atlantic University students facing pressure for their refusal to cut ties with their popular journalism adviser after the school discharged him.

The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, sent a letter to the new president of FAU expressing concern and disapproval about the university’s encroachment on student First Amendment rights. FAU officials are attempting to keep the student newspaper editor from consulting with the former adviser, Michael Koretzky. Koretzky, who was fired last month, has continued to stay on as a volunteer adviser—at the request of his students.

The university’s attempts to prevent Koretzky from assisting the editors with the newspaper production include claims that Karla Bowsher, editor-in-chief of the University Press, is violating university policy by consulting with him, even off-campus. Bowsher has said she fears being brought up on disciplinary charges if she remains in contact with Koretzky.

While SPJ says that Koretzky’s involvement may be “awkward” for university administrators, it called FAU’s scare tactics an “attempt to violate the First Amendment rights of an FAU student.”

Koretzky, who had served as the adviser for 12 years, has extensive writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines. In addition to being greatly popular with his students and those who attend his journalism teaching workshops, he is also known as being outspoken and willing to go against the grain. The latest edition of the University Press contained several hard-hitting stories about the college, including one questioning the new president’s decision to meet behind closed doors with the Board of Trustees of the Boca Raton college.

Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte also sent a letter June 8 that disputes the university’s contention that the students are “employees” of the university and are subject to being disciplined if they disobey orders from the director of student media. He said FAU has misclassified editors as college employees, an uncommon policy at any university.

In the letter, he said that the attempt of a university to restrict who students can consult with can create an “intimidating climate that stifles fundamental press freedoms.”

This is a pressing issue that deserves the attention of student journalists and journalism organizations nationwide. As the SPJ said in its letter, “threatening an editor for listing Mr. Koretzky as a volunteer adviser not only violates that editor’s First Amendment rights, but it sends a signal to all other FAU students that university officials do not respect all of the students’ constitutional freedoms.”