NEW YORK — Hundreds of copies of the Maroon-News, the student newspaper at Colgate University — which contained a front page story about the men’s swimming and diving team being suspended for hazing — have been stolen.
The paper was distributed on the Hamilton campus on Oct. 18, and the next day stacks were missing from several academic buildings. The Maroon-News estimates close to 1,000 copies of their sixth print edition were stolen. The paper has a circulation of 2,250.
A university investigation into the theft concluded on Nov. 2, finding three students responsible for stealing 150 of the missing papers. Two of those students were on the men’s swim team, according to Maroon-News Editors-in-Chief Mara Stein and Karrie Spychalski.
Stein and Spychalski were informed of this by Vice President and Dean of the College Paul McLoughlin. The editors were not given more identifiable information because administrators claimed it would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
McLoughlin did not respond to requests for comment.
Stein and Spychalski said McLoughlin told them a student confessed to stealing the papers because he was uncomfortable with the front page photo of the swim team in their Speedos by the pool. The editors said the photo was taken during open swim and there are no identifiable people in it.
More to the point, the editors think the papers were stolen in an attempt to suppress the hazing story.
The investigation was handled by the university and not considered a criminal case because the papers are distributed for free, said Dan Gough, associate vice president of campus safety. The theft did violate the student code of conduct, Gough said.
According to SPLC guides, the theft of newspapers is legally a crime, even if they’re available to students for free because it deprives the rightful owner of their property. In the case of free newspapers, the property is knowledge and the owner is the community.
The Maroon-News reported that McLaughlin said the two students who stole fewer copies were given a warning and the student who admitted to stealing 100 papers was put on probation by the university and asked to pay $100 in restitution. The SPLC could not independently verify this information. The Maroon-News says they haven’t been paid the $100.
Colgate defines probation as “a written reprimand” in their Student Code of Conduct. If the offending student violates the code of conduct again, they could face harsher punishment from the university.
Stealing student newspapers is also a form of censorship, Student Press Law Center Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean noted.
“When an individual or a group of people decide they don’t want the public to have access to information and take it into their own hands, it’s detrimental to freedom of speech,” Ingram Dean said.
There is a financial stake as well — it costs about $1,400 to print each edition, along with potential discontent from advertisers whose messages did not reach their intended audience.
Spychalski said the theft was an injustice to the campus community who were deprived of important information, and the journalists, none of whom receive compensation for their work. “It feels like your hard work completely goes unnoticed,” she said.
Gough said the investigation was thorough and Colgate Campus Safety reviewed security footage and conducted interviews. Gough said Campus Safety “determined that the theft was not organized.”
Gough also disputed the paper’s claim that almost 1,000 issues were stolen, saying that since papers are free, the specific amount stolen cannot be determined.
Stein and Spychalski say the university should have done more basic investigating, like interviewing other members of the swim team or trying to locate the rest of the missing papers. They are also frustrated because information about the case was apparently shared with faculty before it was shared with them.
“We were kept in the dark,” Spychalski said. The university investigation concluded on Nov. 2 and the editors were not informed about the results until the following week.
“They acted like they came to us first,” Stein said. “That’s not acceptable.”
Gough said Colgate Campus Safety is taking steps to prevent repeat incidents. The university is working on expanding its video surveillance systems and increasing security presence in Maroon-News drop off locations.
The Maroon-News is the eighth newspaper theft across the country recorded by the SPLC in 2018.
The SPLC has a resource page for how student journalists can to respond to newspaper theft and an interactive map to view campus newspaper thefts from 2000 to today.
Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free occasional News Roundup.