TEXAS — The studentnewspaper adviser at the University of Texas at Tyler was fired Friday, leavingher without insurance for her upcoming brain surgery.
Vanessa Curry, a journalism lecturer and adviser for the Patriot Talon, said she had a meeting withjournalism department chairman Dennis Cali on April 18 to discuss thenewspaper’s recent move to a different building on campus.
When Curry got there, however, she was told they woulddiscuss her employment contract.
“Concerning my advising position, [Cali] gave me the optionof tendering my resignation right then and there or if I didn’t, he wouldsuspend me with pay for the rest of the semester and I would not be able toadvise the students,” Curry said.
Curry has a cerebral fluid leak, causing her to go deaf inher right ear, and was planning to have brain surgery June 2. She was toldMonday she would be terminated effective May 31.
According to Curry, Cali said he was terminating her becauseof “complaints”—but would not say who complained or what they complained about.
But something changed university officials’ mind and Currysaid she was called into a meeting with interim provost Donna Dickerson and collegeof arts and sciences interim dean Kenneth Wink at noon Friday to discuss herfaculty position. They explained that the chairman had sole discretion indeciding whether to renew her year-to-year contract.
Dickerson, Wink and Cali did not immediately return callsseeking comment.
Curry said she was told the actions taken by Cali hadnothing to do with the content of the paper.
She was initially given until 5 p.m. Friday to remove herthings from campus. She told the administrators that her doctor had advised hernot to carry heavy loads and that she had family in town for Easter weekend.
Curry said she was appalled when Dickerson and Winksuggested she have her family from Illinois help her move her things offcampus.
Curry said she didn’t believe Cali had the authority todismiss her and she respectfully declined to step down. She spoke withstudents, who requested that she remain as the adviser, and Curry requested ameeting with the newspaper’s publication board.
“I asked for an emergency publication board meeting,” shesaid. “It’s my understanding under the bylaws of the publication board and ourhandbook of operation procedures that the reprimand of an adviser is under thejurisdiction of the publication board.”
The board met Wednesday at 4 p.m., Curry said, but justthree members attended and there was not a quorum. Curry said Cali, Dickersonand Wink were the only ones in attendance.
Curry said she believes the administration began compilingreasons to fire her after a Feb. 22 article was published in the Talon, criticizing the university fornot being open about relocating the newspaper.
Curry said she’s heard from several sources that Cali spoketo former Talon staff writers aboutany problems they had with her. She said she was never contacted by Cali andthat she believes the investigation was “conducted in secret.”
Editor-in-Chief Kamren Thompson said she’s heard there weresome former staff members who were upset and that Curry seemed to take thebrunt of the problems.
“She gets the brunt of a lot of it. If they had a problem,they should have come to me. This is the unfortunate result,” Thompson said.
Thompson said she could tell something was wrong afterCurry’s initial meeting and that she was “blindsided” when she found out.
“She’s a fantastic adviser. She allows us to make decisionson our own and we do,” Thompson said.
Arts and Entertainment Editor Haley Bauman said a formerfeatures editor at the paper texted her asking for “any complaints she hadagainst the paper or Curry.”
She said she also bumped into a former photographer for the newspaperat a local restaurant. Bauman said the photographer acknowledged that there wasan investigation and that she had given complaints against Curry and the paper.
Andy Taylor, the newspaper’s print managing editor, saidthere had been tension between the newspaper and the university because of thenewsroom’s move and the Feb. 22 article.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “I never really thoughtthat it would get to this point.”
SPLC Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein said he’s veryskeptical about the motivation of the university.
“When you fire someone because you say there’s beencomplaints, but you won’t say from who and you won’t say about what, it doesn’treally have the hallmark of sincerity, does it?” Goldstein asked.
Goldstein said the paper’s history of disputes should alsobe looked at when evaluating the validity of the adviser’s termination.
“The various First Amendment, free speech and open recordsfights that the Patriot Talon has hadwith the administration over the past three, five, seven years, doesn’t reallysuggest that there’s a proper motivation underlying this mysterious action.”
Goldstein said dismissing Curry from her advising positionbut allowing her to continue teaching journalism classes is also questionable.
“Why would you tell a professor that they should continueteaching their classes but they have to immediately stop talking to thenewspaper, unless you don’t like what is being said in the newspaper,”Goldstein said.