CMA threatens to censure college

Media organization says school official was wrong to withhold adviser's raise

MARYLAND -- College Media Advisers sent a formal letter to Mount St. Mary's College President George Houston in June, saying the school has 30 days to make amends with the adviser to the student newspaper, The Mountain Echo.

If the school is unable to reach a resolution within the 30-day time frame, CMA will likely censure the college. Censure is an official reprimand that includes being considered "hostile toward those professionals it employs to advise the student press," CMA officials said in their letter.

A CMA investigation into the college's treatment of Echo adviser William Lawbaugh found that Lawbaugh had been "punished by his supervisors at Mount Saint Mary's College for his refusal to prior review the student newspaper and thereby control and censor the paper's content."

Lawbaugh said he asked CMA for help after Provost Carol Hinds withheld his yearly raise and sent him a letter of reprimand for failing to be a "responsible teacher of journalism."

"She wants me to censor, and I decline to do that so we don't know what's going to happen here," Lawbaugh said.

But college officials say Lawbaugh is being reprimanded for failing to exercise control over the newspaper's budget.

Administrators criticized Lawbaugh for allowing student editors to take commissions from advertising sales without permission of school officials, a practice editors began after seeing scholarships for newspaper editors cut in recent years.

Lawbaugh said when the scholarships were cut, Dean William Craft, head of the school's media council, told student editors that they should become "entrepreneurial and raise their own scholarship money through advertising and subscriptions," according to Lawbaugh.

But April Nolan, a St. Mary's spokeswoman, said the student editors should have gotten permission from college officials before they started taking commission on their advertising sales.

"[Dr. Lawbaugh's] been saying it's standard practice for people who are working for newspapers to receive commissions from ads," Nolan said. "I think that's a little bit of spin ... It was a very messed-up way of handling the finances, and I think the provost holds the adviser accountable for controlling those finances."

The greatest amount of money earned over the semester was $200 by the editor in chief. Lawbaugh said the other eight editorial board members received $20 to $30 per issue.

Even though school officials have said their only problem with the Echo and Lawbaugh is financial, the administration has come out publicly against the content and management of the publication. In her official letter of reprimand to Lawbaugh, Hinds said the adviser needs to take a more active role in the paper prior to publication.

"I will not sit here and deny to you that there are issues with the institution's administration disagreeing with the content," Nolan said. "The president is irate about the content. He doesn't think it's always appropriate. He doesn't think our students are being taught good journalism practice."

Part of the problem may be that there is no formal job description for the newspaper adviser at the college, Nolan said. CMA officials said they will help write one with input from Lawbaugh and college administrators.

"Simply, I think what causes some problems sometimes is you come into a position with a certain set of understandings about the way that job is going to work-sometimes those things are written and sometimes they're not," said Kathy Lawrence, CMA adviser advocate. "I think that if there were a written job description that says you are responsible for A, B, C, D and E, then the problem wouldn't have originated in the first place."

Fall 2000, reports