College president threatens to file libel suit against N.Y. student paper

NEW YORK -- The editors of the Queens College student newspaper delayed distribution of their weekly issue in December after administrators threatened to sue the paper for libel if it published an editorial accusing the college president of lying.

Avi Muchnick, former editor of The Quad, said the dean of students called him the night before publication and told him President Allen Sessoms had "every intention of suing you and the newspaper."

"Suing was never likely," said dean of students Burton Backner. "All we were really trying to do was alert them and warn them that they should be careful, and then we backed off."

Administrators learned about the piece from an article in The New York Times that quoted Muchnick discussing the editorial The Quad planned to run. The editorial criticized Sessoms for lying about the amount of funding the college had raised for a $30 million AIDS research center.

Muchnick read Backner the editorial over the phone at Backner's request. Backner said he told Muchnick that the president would not be happy with it but that The Quad had to make its own decision.

The editorial accused Sessoms of not being candid about his inability to pay for the center and of lying to the media.

"Our student body and faculty have been dragged through this public humiliation long enough," the editorial said. "Either get the facts straight or tell better lies."

The issue, which was slated for distribution on Dec. 9, was delayed while The Quad's executive board discussed whether to distribute it. Four days later, the board decided to distribute it with an insert explaining the delay and elaborating on the editorial.

The Quad was not sued for libel.

reports, Spring 2000