MASSACHUSETTS — In the wake of a blow-up over content in its student newspaper, Bridgewater State University’s president reportedly ousted the newspaper’s faculty adviser.
President Dana Mohler-Faria and two other administrators met Wednesday with The Comment Editor-in-Chief Mary Polleys and adviser Dave Copeland to discuss recent articles that Mohler-Faria found damaging to the university, Polleys said.
Polleys said Mohler-Faria was unhappy with the paper’s recent coverage of a sexual assault awareness event on campus and a column on student fees. The Comment received heavy criticism over its coverage of the “Take Back the Night” event, in which the paper identified a rape victim who spoke to the 200-person crowd about her experience.
The column questioned the need to raise student fees to make up for a budget shortfall.
Polleys claims Mohler-Faria threatened to shut down the paper and to bar faculty and staff from speaking with its reporters.
At the end of the meeting, Mohler-Faria asked to speak with Copeland alone. Polleys said Mohler-Faria then announced a policy change that would prevent part-time faculty from advising student organizations.
The Comment is the only student organization with a part-time faculty member as its adviser, Polley said.
According to The Patriot Ledger, university spokesman Bryan Baldwin said Copeland “indicated his intention to step down” during the private meeting.
Polleys denied that claim, though Copeland himself declined to comment. Baldwin did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.
Editors believe at least 300 copies of The Comment were stolen from stands Wednesday. News Editor Kate Wallace said the suspected theft was reported to campus police, and that several students had bragged on Facebook about dumping copies in the trash.
The Comment reported Thursday that the policy change would go before the board of trustees Friday. However, the university’s website showed no evidence of a scheduled board meeting and Polleys said Friday evening she was unsure whether any meeting took place.
Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte wrote a letter Thursday to Mohler-Faria in which he sharply denounced the alleged actions taken by the BSU administration.
“To be clear,” LoMonte wrote, “if the board of trustees enacts a regulation with the purpose and effect of disqualifying Mr. Copeland form his adviser position, it is an inevitability that Bridgewater State University, its trustees and you personally will be sued for violating the First Amendment and that you will lose. It would be self-destructive and pointless to pursue such a course.”
By Nick Glunt, SPLC staff writer