R.I. college paper staff locked out of their newsroom

RHODE ISLAND — Student journalists at the Community College of Rhode Island are back in the newsroom for now after student government locked themout earlier this month.

David Gannon, chief executor of The Unfiltered Lens, said StudentGovernment President Manna Muhuri offered to give the office space back inexchange for positive coverage.

“He said, ‘if I leave you guys alone, will you leave me alone?'” accordingto Gannon.

Lens staff members on the Knight Campus found a note on their officedoor July 27 informing them that they needed to move out by Aug. 6. The samenote was given to every student club, and indicated the offices would be cleanedand the locks changed, said Interim Editor in Chief Jim Brady. The locks werechanged two days later, and neither the newspaper nor any other group was givenany assurance about future use of the space.

The newspaper is one of the only student groups on campus needing regularoffice access during the summer months, Gannon said.

The lockout prompted a series of meetings and e-mail exchanges with Muhuriand the college’s associate vice president for student services, Ron Schertz.Both Brady and Gannon said Muhuri privately offered to let the Lens staffkeep its office if the paper would go easy on him.

“The quid pro quo was definitely there,” Gannon said.

Muhuri denied making any kind of offer.

Schertz called the allegation “absurd,” and said there was no evidence tosupport it.

“If I would ever hear of any such thing, I would have reacted to that veryquickly,” Schertz said. “Those kinds of allegations — you know, even thoughpeople have said them, they can’t produce any verification that itoccurred.”

Gannon was issued a single key to the newsroom last week and Schertz saidoffice moves were on hold until there is an opportunity for more discussion. Heattributed the problem to a breakdown in the normal communication between clubsand student government.

“The college identifies space on campus and within this building becauseit’s really one big building, [and] says, ‘listen, these are student offices andthis is student space,'” Schertz said. “And really, we don’t get into the nittygritty of who occupies what space there.”

The newspaper staff wants “unfettered access” to the office, meaning theentire editorial board would have keys, Gannon said.

There are six rooms available for 65 clubs, Muhuri said, and he wants themreallocated to the most active groups on campus.

“The thing is, Unfiltered Lens, who was part of last year’s studentgovernment, kind of let the whole college and the community down by notparticipating in activities and administration totally lost hope in them,”Muhuri said.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, saidstudent governments do not have the power to control space in state-ownedbuildings. He said locking a student newspaper out of its office is notautomatically a First Amendment issue, but offering to barter for positivecoverage is.

“The key’s a good start, there’s no doubt about that. [But] it’s notresolved until the threat of eviction is removed,” Goldstein said.

Decisions about space will be made once the fall semester begins, Muhurisaid.

“When school starts, we’re going to have open forums for clubs who fit theleadership profile… and that’s when we probably start allocating roomsthen.”