Mo. university removes award-winning newspaper adviser

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

T.R. Hanrahan, the Missouri College Media Association’s 2010 Adviser of the Year, said the decision was “not unexpected, but odd.” Hisstudents discovered he had been left off the fall schedule of classes before he found 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 Communications chair J.R. Moorman has been vocal in his support of the newspaper.

“How did I get so bad at my job in 12 months?” Hanrahan said. “Somehow my boss, in letting me go, praised my performance and said, ‘We’re going in a different direction.’ That doesn’t sound to me like it was made a tthe 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 teaching classes and advise the students for their final two editions of the newspaper.

Hanrahan was hired as the adviser for MSSU’s weekly student newspaper The Chart in 2006, after he said he was approached for the job. In the job interview, he said he asked what the 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 did everything I was asked in my interview and now I’m losing my job for it, and that hurts.”

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

The Chart has won awards for its investigative reporting.

Editor-in-chief Brennan Stebbins received a first place Mark of Excellence Award for breaking news reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists for his article about a convicted embezzler MSSU hired to teach accounting.

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

Hanrahan said the embezzler article “was probably the last straw.” 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, broke the news, wrote a strong editorial and the public outcry was so great that a week 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 coverage of a tuition increase and editorials critical of the school administration.

“We covered the failed efforts to bring a medical school to campus, a partnership with a private medical school in Kansas City,” Stebbins said, “and then a year ago the administration began enforcing a media policy and the president and other top administrators refused every single interview request we made.”

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

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

Chart graduates are working all over the country right now for a lot of newspapers, and all the sudden the anchor of this newspaper, who’s back year after year after year, is going to be gone,” Stebbins said. “I’ll definitely be paying attention to what happens because I want to make sure the paper continues its strong tradition into the future.”

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

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

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

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