COLORADO — The former newspaper adviser at the University of Colorado at Boulder wastold to give administrators a “heads up” about controversial stories prior topublication, according to personnel documents.
Amy Herdy was fired as adviser to the CU Independent in June afteryears of dispute over the online publication. Herdy claims Dean Paul Voakesfired her in retaliation for defending student editors, a claim Voakesdenies.
“I got fired because I put my dean on notice about the harassment of mystudents, and made it clear that I was going to encourage them to take action,”Herdy said.
The controversy surrounding the publication stems from a 2008 column thatappeared in what was then the Campus Press. The column called for Asiansto be “hog-tied” and “forced to eat bad sushi.” The author claimed it was asatire, but hundreds of students protested what they perceived as racistcomments.
Following the uproar, faculty at the School of Journalism and MassCommunication voted to separate the publication from the school’s curriculum,while continuing to provide space and funding.
Herdy said the relationship between student journalists and journalismfaculty has been tense ever since. Some faculty members demanded the CUI vacateits newsroom space at the journalism school, she said.
The university has been under intense public scrutiny after announcingplans to restructure and possibly discontinue its journalism program. The movefollows a scathing internal report by former school advisory board member DougLooney, who resigned earlier this year.
Voakes told Herdy on June 21 she was being fired because he wanted to takethe publication “in another direction” and wanted to hire someone with more of abusiness focus, according to an audio recording of the conversation provided byHerdy. Voakes was not aware he was being recorded.
“This will kill them,” Herdy says on the recording. “I really wonder, doyou want to see it succeed? I mean, do you? Because this will be almost thefinal death knell for them.”
“I just, I just see the CUI dying this slow death anyway,” Voakesresponds.
According to a 2008 employment evaluation, also provided by Herdy, Voakessaid the adviser should be able “to read any copy that is being read by studenteditors.”
In the evaluation, Voakes quotes the College Media Advisers Code of Ethicsand writes that it “implies that a working arrangement of ‘monitoring from ashort distance’ and ‘heads-up’ is acceptable… It should start with yourability to be aware of every aspect of editorial planning in every section ofthe paper, on a daily basis.”
Voakes denies he ever asked Herdy to prior review the newspaper.
“That is a key question,” he said. “And the answer is ‘no.’ Just because Idon’t believe in it, and the charter actually explicitly would forbid that. It’sjust not part of our concept of a student newspaper, of studentjournalism.”
After being told of his earlier statements in the evaluation, Voakes saidhe was referring to a “voluntary arrangement” which represented his”understanding at the time of how you could run right up to the line withoutgoing over into prior review.”
Sally Renaud, president of College Media Advisers, said the code of ethicsdoes not permit mandatory prior review.
“It does not imply that an adviser should be allowed to read everything atall,” Renaud said. “What it says is we would want the students to initiate thedialogue and the conversation.”
Voakes confirmed his statement that Herdy was fired more for business thanjournalistic reasons, but declined to comment further citing personnel privacyconcerns.
Danielle Alberti, former editor in chief of the CUI, said the relationshipbetween students and faculty was often tense.
“As editor I heard a lot of students say that they were a little bit afraidto tell the faculty members that they were on staff at the CUIndependent, mostly because students who admitted that were kind of openlymocked in class,” she said.
Voakes said the tension was actually between Herdy and the faculty, andthat the environment has become more positive since the new adviser started inAugust.
Herdy, who has nearly 20 years of reporting experience and was nominatedfor the Pulitzer Prize, is currently looking for work. She applied forunemployment in July, and on Monday the university dropped its appeal of a statefinding that she was not “at fault for the job separation.”
She said she decided to go public with the allegations after the universityannounced its restructuring plans.
“I waited and waited for CU to do the right thing, and they’re not doingthe right thing,” Herdy said. “And accreditation is nearing, and I think thatthe public deserves to know, I think the accreditation committee deserves toknow, and I think the parents of these students deserve to know that studentsdon’t come first there at the journalism school at CU-Boulder.”