PENNSYLVANIA –Student journalists at a community college in Pennsylvania were told this monththey are no longer qualified to be on staff after conflicts arose between thenewspaper and the college’s administration in the fall semester.
All five staff members of the Community College ofPhiladelphia’s Student Vanguard wereasked to reapply for their positions over the holiday break. They were thentold requirements for staff members had changed, increasing the credit hoursneeded per semester from three to six and the GPA requirement from 2.5 to 3.0.The paper’s top editors said they are not enrolled for six credits.
Jerry Whitworth, former managing editor, said the policychanges were made because critical remarks about the administration werefrequently published in the StudentVanguard following a fall semester incident in which the student newspaperwas shut down.
Administrators temporarily shut the newspaper down in Augustbecause it failed to move its office equipment to a different, smaller office.
“They got rid of the staff. They decided a couple weeks agothat they were going to alter the requirements for being a member of the Vanguard and one of those requirementsis… you would have to have six credits,” Whitworth said. “Because of the changethey made, myself and the editor no longer qualify because we’re graduatingsoon and we don’t have to take a six-credit course load.”
Suzanne Manness, former adviser for the Student Vanguard, said she left her position for health reasons andbecause she could not work with administrators anymore.
Manness said she regrets her decision to leave because shefeels it may have allowed the college’s administration to force the existingnews staff out.
“I regret it now,” Manness said. “Had I not quit, I thinkthey would’ve had to put up with me for another year. They fired theeditor-in-chief and the managing editor and implemented new procedures thatensured they could not have the job. It was preplanned.”
Former editor-in-chief Wendy Destin said he questions themid-year move and thinks the paper’s criticism sparked the decision to forcethe staff out.
“I wouldn’t have minded those implications if it was at theend of the school year,” Destin said. “I understand you’re bringing in a newadviser, new staff and new rules. OK, that’s fine at that point, but doing itmid-year, we [already] have our production running. There’s no reason why youshould have to reapply for a job you’ve been doing before.”
Anthony Twyman, a spokesman for CCP, denied the allegationsthat there had been policy changes during the break.
“That’s incorrect,” Twyman said. “There’s been a requirementthat a student in order to be [on the StudentVanguard’s staff] had to have one course, at least a minimum of one course.I believe the [GPA] they have to have is a 2.5 and that still remains the case.That has not changed. It was that way before and it is still that way now.”
An online recruiting letter for the newspaper, however,indicated the alleged policy changes are indeed in effect.
Theletter states that applicants for the vacated positions must “be a registeredstudent at CCP currently enrolled in at least six credit hours, have completedat least twelve credit hours at the college level and be a student in goodstanding with a GPA of 3.0 or better.”
Twymansaid a new student staff has been hired under Nathan House, the newspaper’s newadviser, and should publish its first issue in early February.
Ane-mail from House to Whitworth also suggests policy changes were made duringthe break.
“Thankyou for your application, but you need to be a registered student taking atleast six credits. Thank you for all you’ve done for The Vanguard in the past,”House wrote in the e-mail, supplied by Whitworth.
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press LawCenter, said the legality of the policy changes depends on the administrators’motive.
“Whether or not what they did is illegal depends on why theydid it. The easy thing is to look at it objectively and say that this is a dumbdecision,” Goldstein said. “It’s possible that they make dumb decisions all thetime. It’s also possible that they made this decision because they don’t likethe newspaper staff members.”
Goldstein said he looks at several different factors todetermine what motivated the changes.
“Did they make this change at an unusual time, like in themiddle of the year vs. between staffs? Did they make this change immediatelyafter they had a conflict with the staff on another issue? Did they set the barjust high enough to disqualify everybody on the staff? It seems to me like allthree things are true, which suggests to me that this isn’t a mere blunder,this is a calculated attempt to retaliate against the newspaper staff becausethey got into a disagreement about their office earlier,” Goldstein said.
House did not respond to requests for comment.