Mo. university removes award-winning newspaper adviser

MISSOURI — An award-winning student newspaper adviser hasbeen fired from his job at Missouri Southern State University afteradministrators said they “wanted to make a change.”

T.R. Hanrahan, the Missouri College Media Association’s 2010Adviser of the Year, said the decision was “not unexpected, but odd.” Hisstudents discovered he had been left off the fall schedule of classes before hefound out Thursday he would be let go.

The department head told him they were going to go in a“different direction.” However, Hanrahan said, Department of Communicationschair J.R. Moorman has been vocal in his support of the newspaper.

“How did I get so bad at my job in 12 months?” Hanrahansaid. “Somehow my boss, in letting me go, praised my performance and said, ‘We’regoing in a different direction.’ That doesn’t sound to me like it was made atthe department level. To my knowledge he’s been nothing but supportive.

Calls to Vice President for Academic Affairs AJ Anglin andMoorman were not returned by press time.

His last day is July 15. Before that he will finish teachingclasses and advise the students for their final two editions of the newspaper.

Hanrahan was hired as the adviser for MSSU’s weekly studentnewspaper The Chart in 2006, after hesaid he was approached for the job. In the job interview, he said he asked whatthe department administrators would like him to accomplish at the newspaper.

“They said, ‘We want you to make this paper relevant again,we want real news, we want people to read it and trust it,’” he said. “I dideverything I was asked in my interview and now I’m losing my job for it, andthat hurts.”

Hanrahan said while TheChart has been critical of university administrators, and he doesn’t alwaysagree with the editors, “it’s not my place to tell them what to do and I’m notgoing to violate that principle. I hold it sacred.”

The Chart has wonawards for its investigative reporting.

Editor-in-chief Brennan Stebbins received a first place Markof Excellence Award for breaking news reporting from the Society ofProfessional Journalists for his article about a convicted embezzler MSSU hiredto teach accounting.

“There’s been a lot of controversial stories we covered thatI don’t think the administration has cared too much for,” Stebbins said.

Hanrahan said the embezzler article “was probably the laststraw.” He also mentioned a 2009 article that broke the news that the campus’child development center was being closed because of budget reasons.

“A lot of the employees here, faculty, staff, even students,use that as daycare for their children so they can go to school and work,”Hanrahan said. “The newspaper found out and the editor covered the story, brokethe news, wrote a strong editorial and the public outcry was so great that aweek later, lo and behold, they found a way to keep it open.

“That’s when the pressure on us really ramped up,” he said.

Recent articles on the newspaper’s website include coverageof a tuition increase and editorials critical of the school administration.

“We covered the failed efforts to bring a medical school tocampus, a partnership with a private medical school in Kansas City,” Stebbinssaid, “and then a year ago the administration began enforcing a media policyand the president and other top administrators refused every single interviewrequest we made.”

He said the newspaper staff was surprised to find out thattheir adviser wouldn’t be returning. Stebbins said Hanrahan gets “outstandingevaluations from his students in all of his classes,” so they are havingtrouble figuring out a reason he was fired.

He also noted that he’s worried for the future of thenewspaper without Hanrahan’s leadership.

Chart graduatesare working all over the country right now for a lot of newspapers, and all thesudden the anchor of this newspaper, who’s back year after year after year, isgoing to be gone,” Stebbins said. “I’ll definitely be paying attention to whathappens because I want to make sure the paper continues its strong traditioninto the future.”

Hanrahan’s home isn’t in Joplin, where the university islocated. His wife lives in Kansas City, about three hours away.

“I have an apartment down here,” he said. “I only see mywife on weekends and I have to maintain two households and all of thoseexpenses, so I don’t make very much at the end of the day.”

Hanrahan said despite not making much money, he finds thework valuable and worthwhile. He said he also finds it difficult to take whenpeople say he is out to make the school look bad, because he went to school atMSSU and his son graduated from the university.

“This school is very important to me, and I will always lovethis school,” he said, “but the climate that they have here with regard to theFirst Amendment is not healthy and I hope it will change.”