President of Notre Dame challenges student newspaper's independence

Dispute over advertising may prompt publication to find off-campus home

INDIANA -- After 34 years of independence, a campus newspaper at a Catholic university could lose control over its advertising guidelines or be forced to move off campus.

Rev. Edward Malloy, the president of the University of Notre Dame, challenged the rights of the campus newspaper, The Observer, to choose the advertisements it runs after the paper published a series of gay and lesbian ads the university disagreed with.

According to Mike Connolly, editor of The Observer, Notre Dame has never challenged the content of the paper before, but Malloy told Connolly that the university is the paper's publisher and that the newspaper's traditional independent status is a not set in stone. Connolly said he believes the school has always served as the paper's landlord, bookkeeper and accountant, but never its publisher.

Connolly concedes, however, that there has never been a contract between the school and the newspaper guaranteeing the paper's independence. Rather, he said, it is a "familial agreement" bound only by unsigned letters that say The Observer has complete editorial control.

According to Connolly, the faculty senate backed The Observer in a 21-1 vote saying that the paper should remain completely independent with no oversight from the university -- as it has existed for 34 years.

In September, Malloy created an ad hoc committee made up of professors and deans to evaluate the relationship between the university and the student paper. One of the members of the committee, Denny Moore, who is head of public relations at Notre Dame, was one of the first news editors for The Observer. Connolly said Moore was an ally on the committee and made sure Connolly's arguments were clear in the report.

The report was completed and given to Malloy at the end of September. Connolly said he expected the worst, but Malloy has yet to release either the report or his decision in the matter.

If Malloy does decide to take over even partial control of The Observer, Connolly said he would consider taking the newspaper off campus, although that move is unlikely.

reports, Winter 2000-01