Senate locks doors to newspaper office in battle over advertisement

Student government's actions halt publication for 8 days

NEW YORK -- The Hudson Valley Community College Student Senate locked the staff of the student newspaper out of its office for eight days in February during a battle over the newspaper's refusal to stop running a controversial ad.

The senate decided to lock the door to the offices of The Hudsonian after members objected to the publication of a full-page ad for a local strip club in the Feb. 2 issue.

The help-wanted advertisement for female dancers featured a color photo of a woman in a bikini and promised to pay new employees a $100 bonus after the first month of employment, according to Tony Gray, editor of The Hudsonian.

After the advertisement was published, the paper's adviser of two years resigned abruptly, stating in a letter that he did not feel comfortable associating his name with a publication that would publish strip club ads.

Citing the university's bylaws, which say a student club cannot exist without an adviser, the student senate locked the doors to The Hudsonian's office, effectively shutting the staff members out and forcing them to cease publication of the newspaper.

"The administration is upset at our insistence on exercising our First Amendment rights to determine the content of our student newspaper," Gray said a week after the staff was locked out. "They have vociferously objected to editorials and news coverage for the last semester and are trying to use this for justifying shutting down the paper."

Repeated phone calls made by the Report to student body president Dean Farkas were not returned.

The student senate wanted the newspaper to find a new adviser and agree to never publish the strip club advertisement or a similar ad again.

The Hudsonian staff agreed to find a new adviser but refused to stop publishing the ad because the strip club had already paid for it to run twice. The newspaper wanted to honor its contract with the advertiser, Gray said. But Gray and other editors said that if a separate agreement was reached with the strip club's management, they would not oppose it.

The student senate and the owner of the club ultimately reached an agreement without the newspaper's involvement. The club's owner, a former Hudson Valley student, agreed to the senate's request that he not publish the second advertisement in the next edition of The Hudsonian, and the student senate paid him $250 -- the cost of the ad.

Media coverage of the student senate's decision to shut down the newspaper played an integral part in the reopening of The Hudsonian,according to Gray. He said it pressured the senate to act quickly.

The Hudsonian staff has collected articles written about the incident by other publications and posted them on the wall outside its office, creating a "wall of shame" for members of the student senate to see every time they walk to their offices next door, Gray said.

The Hudsonian staff missed the publication deadline for the Feb. 16 issue, but was able to print an issue on March 1 by putting together the biweekly newspaper in one week.

Gray said the incident has made him pessimistic about the future of First Amendment rights for student publications at the college.

"I'm going to try talking to the school again about coming into compliance with the laws regarding our First Amendment rights," Gray said. "Based on past experiences, I doubt much will come of it."  

reports, Spring 2000