Contracts limiting union members' ability to talk with student media concern Central New Mexico Community College journalists

NEW MEXICO — Central New Mexico Community College student journalists are worried their school’s faculty contracts could dissuade union members from talking freely with student media.

During negotiations, drafters proposed language specifically limiting faculty’s ability to communicate about union matters with The CNM Chronicle, Central New Mexico Community College’s student-run newspaper, said Jonathan Baca, a copy editor with the paper. The ratified contracts instead use a vaguer term — “student media” — that Baca is concerned will scare off faculty sources.

The full-time faculty contract states that nothing “inflammatory, derogatory, or disruptive to good labor-management relations shall be contained in … communications with any College student media,” according to a letter sent by Andy Russell, history instructor and vice president for full-time union faculty, to Baca.

The part-time faculty contract, similarly, stipulates that no college resources — “including but not limited to College student media” — be used for “union business of any type.”

Russell said that he believes references to student media in the full-time contract are specific to “union leaders or union representatives.”

Baca, though, said the wording is too broad and could apply to every union member.

“It’s so vague that we’re worried that instructors in the union … will take it to mean that they can’t come to The CNM Chronicle with legitimate concerns about anything regarding the union,” said Baca, who wrote about the issue in The CNM Chronicle.

Russell, who was present during negotiations, said there have been past “conflicts between the union and the college, and the newspaper got involved with those issues,” but he declined to comment on the record about specific instances. He said “there was surely an effort to curtail” the airing of grievances with the student newspaper.

The CNM Chronicle has had other brushes of conflict with administrators, Baca said. Last March, President Katharine Winograd confiscated newspapers and briefly shut down operations at The CNM Chronicle after the paper published a sexuality-themed issue.

“It seems to us that after the whole sex-issue thing, they’re worried about things that are written about in The CNM Chronicle,” Baca said. “I think they don’t trust us to be objective.”

“The language in Section 26.6 of the Part-time Faculty Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed upon by the part-time faculty union and administration,” said CNM spokesman Brad Moore in an emailed statement. “It addresses the operations of the part-time faculty union, not an individual’s right to freedom of speech. It is intended to articulate that college and taxpayer resources are not to be used for union organizing or lobbying, or political activity.”

One faculty member reached by the Student Press Law Center declined to comment because of the “culture of fear” at the university.

Dianne Layden, a “semi-retired” part-time faculty member who teaches English, said the contract provision is “both illegal and unconstitutional.” Layden said she wrote her dissertation on collective bargaining.

“You cannot contract away your civil rights,” Layden said about the faculty contracts. “This is a public institution. They have constitutional rights. I’m very concerned about why CNM would put this in the proposal.”

Greg Williams, an attorney specializing in media law and president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the contracts are essentially blocking the newspaper from obtaining sources.

“CNM can’t restrict the right of its student paper to write about labor issues at the college,” Williams said. “The reason a college has a student newspaper is so that issues affecting the college can be discussed publicly, and it’s not appropriate for the college to put restrictions on what can appear in the newspaper.”

By Rex Santus, SPLC staff writer. Contact Santus by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.