FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEContact: Frank D. LoMonte, executive director703.807.1904 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The editors and staff of TheSun at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, CA., who endured threats andharassment from their administration in an attempt to keep them from publishing,are the recipients of this year’s College Press Freedom Award.
The annual award is sponsored by the Student Press LawCenter and the Associated Collegiate Press to honor an individual or group thathas demonstrated courage in advancing free-press rights for collegejournalists. The award will be presented at the National College JournalismConvention, Oct. 26-29 in Orlando, organized by the ACP and by College MediaAdvisers.
This year, for the first time, the award will beunderwritten by a grant from the Louisiana State University Manship School ofCommunications, and given in memory of “The ReveilleSeven,” a group of LSU student journalists who, in 1934, were expelled for publishing criticism of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long.
Controversy at The Suncame to a head in September 2010, when Southwestern College administratorsordered the paper to cease printing until after a fiercely contested electionin which three members of the college’s Board of Governors were up forre-election. The order purportedly was based on a technicality that the paper’sprinting contract had not been approved by the board, but the technicality hadnever before been enforced.
According to a resolution enacted by The Sun’s editorial board, the printing shutdown was part of aseries of attacks on the paper by then-President Raj Chopra’s administrationthat also included: reducing the pay of editorial adviser Max Branscomb, hiringa lawyer to investigate Branscomb, spending $50,000 on an audit of thepublication, and ordering campus police to detain Sun staffers who were taking computers to be recycled on a bogus “theft”charge. Chopra resigned in November 2010.
SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte said The Sun ‘s student staff and adviser “endureda pattern of escalating attacks that culminated in temporarily shutting downtheir paper in a naked attempt to suppress coverage of a closely contestedboard of trustees election.
“The administrators of Southwestern College threw everythingthey had at these journalists, even threatening them with a trumped-up criminalinvestigation, and through it all, the journalists kept on doing exactly whatjournalists are supposed to do: Pursue the story, wherever it led. Theirreporting exposed gross mismanagement at the college, including the deliberatewasteful spending of millions of dollars to conceal how badly the school hadmissed its budget estimates,” LoMonte said.
After The Sun wastold it could not publish, it contactedthe SPLC for assistance, said Albert Fulcher, the current editor in chief, whowas on staff during the fall 2010 controversy. “When the SPLC stepped in withletters and phone calls to the Southwestern College district, it immediatelygave us permission to print and brought our struggle into national limelight. Butmore than that, it was the many personal conversations that we students hadwith the SPLC that gave us the tools to win the fight.”
The Sun quickly receivedcommunity support and raised enough funds through private donations andsponsorships to pay for the printing of three editions of the newspaper on itsown. Eventually, as a result of pressure from the SPLC and the community, thegoverning board enacted a new policy that Fulcher said is a “superior model toprotect any student journalism program in the nation.”
Dave Waddell, editorial adviser to The Orion at Chico State University, nominated The Sun for the College Press Freedom Award, saying that the paperdeserved recognition “for its courageous defense of a free press against what Iwould characterize as a corrupt administration seeking desperately, arrogantlyand ruthlessly to silence the student newspaper. But they failed. They failedbecause The Sun would not be intimidated…. I admire them for standing up to the attack and for winning this battle.”
Journalism professor and Sunadviser Branscomb said he and his staff are honored to be selected.
“The students and faculty of the Southwestern College Sun are very grateful for the supportand wisdom of the Student Press Law Center during what was our darkest hour,”he said. “What happened at Southwestern College last fall was the worst fear ofjournalists and Americans who cherish our precious free speech rights. I am soproud of my students, who showed great courage, integrity and resolve during thecrisis.”
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted toeducating high school and college journalists about the rights andresponsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the studentnews media in covering important issues free from censorship. The Center provides free information and educational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a wide variety of legal topics on its website at www.splc.org.