New Mexico college administrators reinstate staff, return confiscated papers

NEW MEXICO — A community college president has returned confiscated newspapers and reinstated the student newspaper staff to their positions after administrators shut down the paper yesterday.

Tuesday afternoon, the Central New Mexico Community College student newspaper’s editor-in-chief and faculty adviser were called to a meeting and told “the paper was being temporarily shut down,” Editor-in-Chief Jyllian Roach said. That morning, a sex and sexuality-themed issue had been distributed.

In an initial statement from Central New Mexico Community College, Tuesday’s issue of The CNM Chronicle was called, “offensive and not appropriate for the educational mission of CNM.” The newspapers were confiscated and student staff members were told they would be assigned different work-study positions while the newspaper operation was evaluated.

On Wednesday, however, the college’s president attributed the confiscation to the inclusion of a minor in the issue.

“The reason that we pulled this issue from the news racks around campus was that a high school student was included in this issue and we needed to check on the legal ramifications of information on a minor in a publication of the college,” President Katharine Winograd told the audience at an emergency publication board meeting.

Roach said a 17-year-old was included in the newspaper, but that there are no legal problems with including a minor. Further, as part of her personal policy, parental consent had been obtained before the minor was included.

Roach said she thinks communication could have kept the situation from becoming so severe.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, well, you could have just asked me,’” Roach said of hearing Winograd’s explanation today.

Some papers were confiscated from racks Tuesday afternoon, according to the college’s initial statement. Roach said a student told her administrators were also taking the papers directly from students who had picked them up.

“I didn’t witness this,” Roach said. “If that’s the case, it’s so far beyond censorship it’s heartbreaking.”

Newspaper staff members weren’t initially told what specifically was wrong with the issue, aside from being told one administrator found it “raunchy,” Roach said.

“CNM funds the operations of The Chronicle, and as a publicly funded institution, CNM feels a responsibility to make sure public funds are being used to support the College’s educational mission,” the statement said.

The statement said the college’s lack of a journalism program, “has limited the college’s ability to provide the education and training that students need to appropriately operate a newspaper that is distributed to a student body of nearly 30,000.” The school was planning to do a “full evaluation of the structure and oversight of the student newspaper,” the statement said.

Earlier this month, the college lauded the newspaper for its third-place “Best of Show” award in the Associated Collegiate Press’ national competition.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the possibility of creating a journalism program was discussed, as well as training, Roach said. She said she would support the creation of a journalism program and is willing to discuss training.

“As far as the talk about more training goes, we’re open to the discussion,” Roach said. “We’re totally open to talking about that.”

The students, whose jobs at the newspaper are work-study positions, were originally told they’d be reassigned next week, Roach said.

“We were told there will be no loss of pay from any of this but I don’t think they understand that the money is secondary, and for some of us tertiary, for why we do that job in the first place,” Roach said. “We care about the school and we care about getting the information out to students and making sure we are the student voice. We made that commitment and that’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”

Getting information out to students was the inspiration behind this issue, Roach said.

“We don’t talk about sex and sexuality,” Roach said. “We talk about clinical terms, we talk about STDs and pregnancy. But there were so many subjects… we don’t touch on because we’re embarrassed or uncomfortable or just don’t know, but it’s just as important information to get out there as STD and pregnancy information.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said Wednesday’s turnaround was welcome news but that the college’s administrators still need to understand that the ability to publish newspapers cannot lawfully be interfered with on the grounds of “inadequate training.”

“The First Amendment thankfully doesn’t protect only speech by people that the government subjectively decides, after reviewing their writing, are adequately trained to please the government,” LoMonte said. “If there is anyone in desperate need of training, it’s the administration and legal staff at CNMCC, who need to go back and retake high school civics.”

More than 300 supporters had signed a petition by Wednesday afternoon, and the University of New Mexico’s independent newspaper ceased print publication in solidarity with The Chronicle. In a letter published online, The Daily Lobo’s Editor-in-Chief, Elizabeth Cleary, pledged to only publish online until things were back to normal at The Chronicle.

“We dearly appreciate the support and I think that’s one of those things that I have not yet processed how much it means to me, but we were all just awestruck when it happened,” Roach said.

Even after the confiscation, Tuesday’s issue could be found on The Chronicle’s WordPress website.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.