Thieves attempting to silence press steal student newspapers at 5 campuses

Those upset by coverage continue to take thousands of publications at institutions across the country

Southwest State University in Marshall, Minn., suspects its entire press run was stolen by a religious organization unhappy with several letters to the editor that bashed the organization for forcing its views on the campus community.

Staff members at The Impact said they think all 1,500 copies of the Nov. 9 issue were stolen Nov. 10 and Nov. 13 by one of the campusís Christian organizations because the paper previously ran a letter to the editor that criticized the groups for plastering their message across the campus.

In the Sept. 28 issue of The Impact, Jef Kolnick, an associate history professor, wrote a letter to the editor explaining his distaste for what he called "the increasingly aggressive tone of evangelism" from several Christian organizations on campus that heavily propagated their beliefs in signs all over the school grounds.

The president of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship replied to Kolnick's letter in the next issue with a letter to the editor saying that although the organization was sorry if it offended anyone, it had a constitutionally protected right to relay its thoughts to the community.

The Nov. 9 issue contained yet another letter about religious postings on campus written by an associate English professor who argued that the groups' postings were excessive. The letter contended that the president of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship misunderstood Kolnick's point, which he said had nothing to do with constitutional rights, and accused Christian organizations of hiding behind the Constitution whenever they are challenged.

Ruthe Thompson, adviser to The Impact, said there were two other unrelated editorials written by professors this semester that might have upset some people, but she said the staff believes one of the religious organizations is the culprit. The staff informed campus security of the thefts, but so far there have been no leads. None of the papers have been recovered, and no one has been questioned.

Rumors circulated around Clemson Universityís campus after the theft of 7,000 to 8,000 copies of a 12,000-paper press run on Oct. 13, pointing the finger at readers angered by several of the issueís controversial articles.

The Tiger's homecoming issue contained an article on National Coming Out Week publicizing the success of the gay and lesbian celebration, as well as an article describing four murder investigations by local police departments involving Clemson students in the past eight years.

Phil Caston, editor of The Tiger, said the South Carolina university is a very conservative school and that the Coming Out Day celebrations offended some students who may have retaliated by stealing the papers.

Caston said the lengthy feature article on the unsolved Clemson student murders, which was intentionally printed in the homecoming issue to inform parents in town for parentsí weekend, could have angered the administration. But Joy Smith, dean of student life, assured Caston that no administrators would have stolen newspapers to make the campus seem safer to visiting parents.

Caston added that police have not ruled out the possibility that the theft was committed as a prank by an organization on campus during the float-building activities for the homecoming parade.

"The list of suspects is a mile long," Caston said, adding that the newspaper posted a $100 reward to the campus community for information relating to the theft, but no leads have ensued.

At Miami Dade Community College's North Campus, almost the entire 3,500-paper press run of the campus newspaper was confiscated by the college president -- who said he was upset over spelling and grammatical errors in the paper.

Yanira Sotolongo-Cuzan, editor of The Falcon Times, said she felt the president's attempt to silence the paper may have been motivated by an article that criticized the schoolís lack of handicap access as well as a story that humorously attacked the Miami, Fla., school's lack of organization on the first day of classes.

Castell Bryant, president of the North Campus branch, demanded that the newspaper staff reprint the issue with corrections. Sotolongo-Cuzan said she told Bryant that he had no right to demand anything.

Sotolongo-Cuzan said she met with the district president for the college, who subsequently forced Bryant to return the papers. In addition, school officials and student editors met to discuss problems with the newspaper, ultimately deciding to revamp the journalism program and update The Timesí newsroom.

"We came to the conclusion that the journalism program is very weak and that it needs to be totally restructured from an academic standpoint," Sotolongo-Cuzan said. "We are re-evaluating everything within the program to see how we can strengthen it." The Falcon Times received a $2,000 budget for immediate supplies, and the newsroom will be getting all new journalism equipment, Sotolongo-Cuzan said, adding that she did not think the paper or the program would have been updated if the confiscation had not been brought to officialsí attention. She said she thinks it opened their eyes to the journalism programís problems at the college.

At Charleston University, a group of about 10 students confiscated four-fifths of the student newspaper's press run in September after the newspaper published a front-page story about a student accused of sexual harassment.

Students at the small, private school in Charleston, W.Va., stole about 400 copies of The Eagle's 500-paper press run. The issue contained a story about a student, Mark Karake, who was found responsible for sexual harassment in a university disciplinary proceeding. At the time the story was published, Karake still had the option of two appeals. Both appeals were later denied, and Karake was expelled from Charleston in October.

According to Josh Hafenbrack, co-editor of The Eagle and author of the front-page story, many of the students who stole the papers from the eight racks around campus were also Karakeís accusers. Hafenbrack said he believes the students wanted to keep the story quiet until Karake had exhausted all his appeals.

At Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro, frightened witnesses and an unclear surveillance video spoiled a case against a student suspected of stealing about 5,500 copies of the campus newspaperís 6,100-paper press run.

The newspaper contained a story about a student who was convicted of battery against other students during a final exam in April. Amanda Watlington, editor of The Herald, said she believes the student who was the subject of the story, Edwin Duane Alvin, also stole the newspapers. But prosecutors decided not to prosecute Alvin for the theft because the evidence against him was not compelling enough.

Campus police told Watlington that witnesses who said they saw Alvin steal the papers would not go on record because they were scared of him. In addition, a surveillance video that showed a man resembling Alvin taking newspapers was not conclusive enough for either the prosecutors or the ASU Office of Judicial Affairs to levy any punishment or charges.

The article that Herald staff members believe may have motivated Alvin to steal the papers discussed his conviction of third-degree battery and disorderly conduct in July for shoving two female students and a male student in a classroom.

Watlington said she would not pursue further legal action against Alvin.

"Since [Alvin] is up for graduation soon, we think [the administration] is just hoping he will leave," Watlington said. "They have had trouble with him before."

Before the theft, the sign on The Herald's racks around campus said "free," but now the nameplate reads "single issue free." Watlington said additional copies are 50 cents each.

reports, Winter 2000-01