Two college advisers believe content caused their removal
Two college newspaper advisers are considering legal action against school administrators because they believe they were removed from their positions for refusing to censor students.In Indiana, school administrators at Vincennes University removed the eight-year adviser of the Trailblazer, a student newspaper, after a yearlong struggle over content in the publication.Trailblazer adviser Michael Mullen was told during a performance evaluation in May that he was being transferred to the public university's English department, where he taught six years prior to serving as newspaper adviser.Although administrators at the public university told Mullen they were transferring him because they needed to fill a vacancy, he believes the newspaper's content was a main factor in their decision."I allowed the staff to publish articles that were embarrassing to the university and put a light on things they would prefer were kept in the dark," Mullen saidThe former adviser is in talks with a lawyer over a possible lawsuit against the university.Duane Chattin, director of public information for Vincennes University, said the university has a long history of allowing students to print what they want in the newspaper, and the decision to transfer Mullen was legitimate."Only after the fact does the adviser critique the students," Chattin said. The university began its search for Mullen's replacement at the beginning of the summer, and confirmed in July the position has been filled.Mary Trimbo, dean of humanities at Vincennes University, would not say whether content in the Trailblazer was a factor in Mullen's transfer."[Mullen] was hired as an English professor, he was tenured as an English professor and his area of expertise is English," Trimbo said. "[Mullen] was moved back to his department when there was an opening there. He was never tenured in journalism."Mullen's replacement, Mark Stalcup, was an outside applicant with degrees in journalism, English and law. He also specializes in the study of media law, Trimbo said.Controversy at the Trailblazer began in 2003 when it published an April Fools' Day issue that was not well-received by student leaders on campus, who were caught stealing about 1,800 copies of the issue.The newspaper also printed controversial articles about the low enrollment on campus, and whether the university's interim President John R. Gregg, former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, was qualified for his position.In a memo to the Trailblazer staff in September, Trimbo told Mullen and student editors they could not print another April Fools' Day edition. She went on to state that the "First Amendment cannot be a shield for sloppy journalists who create sloppy products flawed with errors in logic and content."Trimbo also said in the letter that she had no intent to censor the newspaper, however, she refused to allow students to have a classroom experience that was "not at the highest level the university could offer."Student editors went on to print another April Fools' Day issue in 2004, as well as an article accusing the administration of calling off the investigation into the theft of the previous year's edition. Mullen said the university defended the accusation by saying that the school attorney determined that stealing free newspapers was not considered theft. He fears his replacement will feel pressure to censor the newspaper because he or she will not be a tenured faculty member.In Kansas, administrators at Barton County Community College did not renew the contract of the adviser to the Interrobang, a student newspaper at the public school, in April because she refused to censor student journalists, the adviser believes.Jennifer Schartz, who also was also a professor at the school, was given no explanation from the college's board of trustees as to why her contract was not renewed.Schartz believes she was fired because she would not comply with a demand from the school's lawyer that she not allow the newspaper to publish "personal attacks."The demand came a day before the newspaper published a letter criticizing the school's basketball coach, which was written by a former basketball player who was cut from the team.The school's lawyer, Randall C. Henry, said in the letter to Schartz that each newspaper has the ability to set its own editorial policy. However, "since the college is responsible for the content of the newspaper, it is the administration's position that letters of this type will not be printed," the letter stated. "The administration has decided that no letters to the editor will be published which are by and large personal attacks upon other members of the [college] family," the letter stated.Students asked the basketball coach for a response to the letter, but he declined the opportunity. Schartz wrote a rebuttal to Henry's letter, stating that public colleges cannot censor student publications, and colleges bear no legal responsibility for what they publish.School administrators did not return requests for comment.Schartz, who has more than 20 years of journalism experience, believes she was punished for not breaking the law for the college.Schartz is in talks with a lawyer over a possible lawsuit against the university.
Read previous coverage
- Ind. editors allege student senate president stole April Fools' edition News Flash, 4/8/2003
Fall 2004, reports