Employee wrong to tear down student newspaper fliers, university says

VIRGINIA -- A newspaper editor used an early-morning stakeout to catch a university employee last week in the act of tearing down fliers posted by newspaper staff that named an alleged rape victim.

Will Coggin, editor of The Remnant, a student newspaper at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., waited for more than two hours in the chilly morning air before spying a university employee who removed several fliers from a communal posting board at about 7 a.m.

Coggin said when he ran up to the employee and confronted him about tearing down the fliers, the man said he had been instructed to remove ''foul material.''

Coggin then followed the employee, snapping photos with his digital camera as the man threw away a handful of fliers and retreated to a campus facilities building. He said after he followed the man to his office, peppering him with questions, the employee threatened to have him arrested if he did not leave the premises.

''My main thought was that I needed to get necessary evidence on who he was and that he had taken [the fliers] down,'' Coggin said. ''In my mind it was illegal and certainly against school policy.''

The next day, college president Gene Nichol sent an e-mail to William and Mary students and staff, saying he ''regretted'' the incident and that the employee was wrong to remove the fliers.

''He acted in good faith, but the postings conformed to the College's guidelines and should not have been removed,'' Nichol wrote.

Bill Walker, a spokesman for the college, said the facilities employee ''misinterpreted rules'' about posted materials on campus.

Remnant staff made the fliers, Coggin said, to notify the highest number of students about the paper's ongoing coverage of an alleged rape that occurred at a sorority party Oct. 28.

The flier included the name of the alleged victim, and said recent documents obtained by the newspaper revealed that she ''had consensual sex with a second individual in her residence that night, after she was allegedly raped.'' The flier directed students to the paper's Web site, which contains further coverage and links to court documents.

The paper's interest in the story was piqued in late December, Coggin said, when criminal charges against the student accused of rape were dropped.

''We knew there was more to the story than what was told by the school, which was little,'' he said. ''Same with the local press.''

Walker, the university spokesman, said the school was ''fully aware and fully supportive'' of the paper's First Amendment rights, but that administrators had reservations about the newspaper's choice to publish the victim's name.

''Our primary concern is that it will discourage victims in the future from coming forward and getting the help and support they need,'' Walker said. ''But that doesn't impact our obligations to the First Amendment.''

The Remnant announced yesterday that it will be sponsoring a panel discussion in late March about the school's response to sexual assault cases and its judicial process.

Coggin said the paper is still committed to investigating the facts of the rape case.

''People are not going to get away with censorship,'' he said.

--by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer