Ill. college journalists, administrators at odds over adviser's removal

ILLINOIS — When Cathy Stableinwas called into a meeting with top administrators at the College of DuPage inGlen Ellyn, Ill., the last thing on her mind was that she would lose her jobadvising the Courier,the school’s student newspaper.

But on May 26,Stablein was informed that after more than 20 years with the newspaper, she wasbeing reassigned as part of an effort to revamp the school’s journalismprogram.

The news came during ameeting with Dean of Liberal Arts Daniel Lloyd and Dean of Student Affairs SueMartin.

Upon first learning ofthe change, “I figured that there wasn’t much I’d be able to do to change theirminds,” Stablein said. “My main concern was that all of this seemed to behappening so quickly.”

Stablein’s students,however, immediately saw the move as part of an administrative response to someof the Courier’s content over the past year.

Vikaas Shanker, whoserved as editor in chief this year, said the newspaper “covered a lot ofthings we felt were wrong with the college. The staff took the approach that weweren’t going to hold back, even if the stories were critical of theadministration.”

Current editor NickDavison cited various articles — including news and editorial coverage of aBoard of Trustees election — that may have irked school officials.

In a letter toadministrators thatwas posted on the newspaper’s website, Davison and Shanker wrote that they“view Cathy’s removal from her position as Courier adviser as an illegalaction, and as a retaliatory attack on our legally protected rights as studentsand editors of college media.”

Collegeadministrators, though, have asserted that the decision to reassign Stableinhad nothing to do with any Courier stories.

DuPage PresidentRobert Breuder wrote in a May 31 e-newsletter that the claims of thestudent journalists “are completely unfounded. There is no connection betweenthe content of any Courier articles and the decision to change advisers.”

College spokesman JoeMoore said the real issue at hand is severe under-enrollment in the school’sjournalism department. This year, journalism courses at DuPage averaged aboutsix students per class, which caused the college to place the department under“critical program review” status.

A program isconsidered “healthy” if it averages at least 20 students per class, Mooreadded.

“Nothing that thestudent editors have been saying could be further from the truth,” Moore said.“The math clearly demonstrates what we’re doing here. We’re asking a facultymember to invest herself fully in one program.”

Stablein, however,said she was never consulted about the desired changes to the journalismdepartment, and was never asked if maintaining her duties as adviser to the Courierwhile working to increase enrollment would be too much to handle.

“It was just assumedthat I couldn’t do it,” she said. “That was probably the most insulting part ofthe process.”

Stablein said she isconfident that she could manage her new responsibilities while continuing toadvise the Courier.

Though sheacknowledged that the Courier’s content could be part of theadministration’s motivation, she said “it is probably a larger issue than justthat.”

Frank LoMonte,executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said any use of Courier contentas impetus to reassign Stablein would be a violation of the Illinois CollegeCampus Press Act.

According to the Act,“a collegiate media adviser must not be terminated, transferred, removed,otherwise disciplined or retaliated against for refusing to suppress protectedfree expression rights of collegiate student journalists and of collegiatestudent editors.”

For LoMonte, a goodway to gauge the honesty of the administration’s claims is to ask whether theypass the “straight-face test.”

“If this decision wasreally meant to benefit the newspaper, you’d expect it to be done transparentlyand with the buy-in of those who are affected,” he said.

In his letter, Breudersaid the college will begin screening candidates to find a new adviser for thefall.

Until that time,Davison and Shanker are hoping that school officials will consider reinstatingStablein. In support of their cause, they created an online petition earlier this week, with a goal of collecting 500 signatures. Currently, morethan 250 supporters have signed the petition.

Shanker said theadministration “is missing that the newspaper is a huge part of our journalismprogram. They’re prioritizing the journalism program over the newspaper, whenin fact they’re one in the same. We’re hopefully going to help them seethat.”