Adviser questions demands for additional coursework, but college attorney insists there's no retaliation

A Wyoming college attorney denies thatthe institution unfairly treated a journalism instructor and the student newspaperdue to the students’ coverage of campus events.

In a letter to the attorney of Rob Breeding, a journalisminstructor at Northwest College, the college’s attorney wrote that the“accusation that the College is making decisions about Breeding’s employment based on the content of articles published in the Northwest Trail is inaccurate and false.”

Attorney Tracy Copenhaver’s April 21 letter is in response to a previous letter sent byPatrick Hacker, an attorney for the Wyoming Education Association, thatoutlined a number of First Amendment concerns related to how the college hastreated Breeding, who advises the Northwest Trail, the student-run newspaper oncampus. Breeding said the university delayed his tenure track for one year anddemanded that he take 18 hours of postgraduate journalism courses, even though he already holds a masters’ degree and has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and adviser.

“Not only are there concerns about improper First Amendmentretaliation against Mr. Breeding as the journalism instructor/newspaper advisor,but there are now also concerns that the newspaper and the entire journalismdepartment may also be a target of retaliation by administration,” Hacker wrotein the letter.

The concerns come after the newspaper published storiesthat irked college administrators, including an article on the removal of fiveresident assistants accused of drinking on the job.

The Higher Learning Commission, the school’s accreditingagency, recently imposed more demanding standards for the graduate-level coursework that instructors should have. But Breeding said thequalifications from the commissions are guidelines, not requirements. He alsosaid the commission was specific in saying that colleges should not imposethese qualification standards on instructors who are in good standing.

“I am complying with what they said I have to do, while alsochallenging it,” Breeding said Friday, mentioning that he is in the process of signingup for classes for an online graduate journalism program at the University ofMissouri.

He said college made clear that they might not renew hiscontract unless he completes 18 hours of postgraduate journalism courses. ButBreeding said a full course load in a graduate program next year would take uptime he could be advising his students at the newspaper. And this semester, hesaid he has already been less available to his students in dealing with theadministration.

As for the delay in Breeding’s tenure track status, thecollege’s attorney said the delay would allow him to complete thequalifications outlined by the accrediting agency.

“The idea of postponing that was to give Rob adequate timeto acquire in a very reasonable time line the necessary course work to meet theHLC and [college] requirements,” Copenhaver stated in the letter.

Northwest College was the scene of a press-freedom squabble in 2010 when the Trail‘s adviser, Ron Feemster, was removed after unfavorable coverage of college news, including questionable sports recruiting practices and inequities in faculty and administrator pay.