Student newspaper board at Northern Michigan U. responds to criticism over adviser’s termination

MICHIGAN — Four student members of the student newspaper’s board of directors at Northern Michigan University released a statement on Tuesday refuting claims a university administrator influenced their vote to terminate the newspaper’s adviser.

“Each of us made up our own minds,” according to the statement. “We are independent thinkers. We take issue with how our fellow student board member and the North Wind have characterized us as easily influenced, poorly informed and impressionable.”

The statement followed a North Wind editor’s claims that the board — comprised of five students, a local journalist, an administrator, a faculty member and the newspaper’s adviser — violated the First Amendment on April 3 when they voted against reappointing Cheryl Reed as adviser. The board also voted against hiring Managing Editor Michael Williams as the next editor in chief, even though he was the only applicant for the job.

Since then, The North Wind has reported on the issue and three media organizations — Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Collegiate Press and the College Media Association — have released statements calling for Reed’s reinstatement and Williams’ reconsideration.

“We are not looking for validation,” according to the statement, which student board members Aubrey Kall, Eric Laksonen, Troy Morris and Pearl Gaidelis co-signed. “We are comfortable with our votes and are exercising our rights and responsibilities as board members.”

Kall said a story in The North Wind “mischaracterized” January meetings between Vice President Steve Neiheisel, a member of the board, and student members. An April 9 story in the student newspaper alleged Neiheisel told the student board members the newspaper’s open records requests were “a waste of time and money” and he spoke critically of Reed. In January, the board of directors voted against paying for a $300 open records request for the emails of six administrators, including Neiheisel.

Emma Finkbeiner, the newspaper’s editor in chief, had requested the emails in December 2014 following “feelings of intimidation” from administrators.

According to the statement, Neiheisel only met with the student board members to distribute a copy of the board’s bylaws and to discuss the board’s role in the January meetings.

“We were not told how to vote on the FOIA request,” according to the statement, “nor were we told to support or not to support the journalistic advisor.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Mariana Viera by email or at (202) 478-1926.