Back on the Trail: Retaliation questions resurface at Northwest College after adviser's job is imperiled

New qualification standards have one Wyoming journalisminstructor wondering if he and the student newspaper are receiving unfairtreatment from administrators in response to the students’ coverage of thecampus.

An attorney for the Wyoming Education Association recentlysent a letter to Northwest College in Wyoming, outlining a number of FirstAmendment concerns over the treatment of journalism instructor Rob Breeding andthe campus newspaper, the Northwest Trail.

“Not only are there concerns about improper First Amendmentretaliation against Mr. Breeding as the journalism instructor/newspaperadvisor, but there are now also concerns that the newspaper and the entirejournalism department may also be a target of retaliation by administration,”WEA Attorney Patrick Hacker wrote in the letter.

According to a report in the Powell Tribune, Breedingrecently found out his tenure track status would be delayed a year, and he willhave to take 18 hours of postgraduate journalism courses.

In the letter to Northwest, Hacker said the obstacles to Breeding remaining employed at the college appeared to get more demanding after the newspaper published articles that irked the college’s administration, including one about a gun found on campus and another about the removal of five resident assistants accused of drinking on the job.

Along with the letter, Hacker sent a public-records requestto find out more about discussions related to future budget cuts at thecollege. Hacker said he is inquiring into whether administrators are targeting the Northwest Trail or the journalism program for elimination because of animosity.

Hacker said the purpose of the letter was tocommunicate the concern that the paper’s coverage might play a role in whetherto cut the program.

“Retaliation for student newspaper reporting strikes at theheart of free speech and academic freedom,” Hacker wrote in the letter. “Ofall places in our society, a college should respect and encourage students’rights to report and comment on matters of importance to them.”

This isn’t the first time Northwest College has been called out for its treatment of the journalism program. The college fired Ron Feemster, whoadvised the newspaper and taught print journalism classes, in 2010 after atense relationship with campus administrators, who recoiled at unflattering coverage in the newspaper.

Feemster published a first-person account of his time at Northwest College in Inside Higher Ed,where he outlined the struggles he faced as he advised the newspaper.

“I would lose my job in the fight to publish a newspaperthat covered the real news on campus, but I would gain something greater,”Feemster wrote in the article. “In two years, I experienced again howjournalism energizes young people, and how young people trying to write thetruth can change their community.”

The student editors at Northwest were recognized with the College Press Freedom Award for continuing their aggressive coverage in spite of their adviser’s removal.