Adviser says college will not renew his contract for standing up for student press

ILLINOIS -- Harper College in Palatine will not renew student newspaper adviser Dann Gire's contract after it expires today, and Gire said he thinks he knows why.

''Every year that I didn't have a run-in with the vice president, I was re-appointed faculty adviser,'' said Gire, who has been advising The Harbinger student newspaper since 2000. ''The year I did have one, I'm fired four months later. Coincidence?''

Michael Nejman, director of student affairs at the two-year community college, allegedly broke the news to Gire at a brief meeting in early June. Gire described the meeting as ''very cordial'' and said Nejman informed him The Harbinger would be going in a ''new direction.''

Nejman did not respond to requests for comment.

After a fall semester that included the publication of a photograph from a Muslim art exhibit of a woman's exposed breast and ensuing protests of the exhibit and the paper's coverage, Gire said Harper administrators decided to set some new guidelines for The Harbinger in February.

A copy of the guidelines, provided by Gire, mandates that The Harbinger editor in chief ''observe common standards of decency,'' and ''work closely with the Student Activities staff ... using their experience and advice'' to improve the journalistic quality of the paper.

The policy also required the editor to promise to ''primarily focus on 'Harper news,' over Chicago-area or national news.''

Gire said he feared the new policy might expose the college to greater legal liability. Administrators demanded that the paper's editor in chief sign a contract comprised of the new guidelines, he said.

In an attempt to limit the school's liability, Gire said he redrafted the editor contract, in doing so removing wording that gave extra control to the student activities staff and designating the paper as a public forum. But after submitting the amended policy, Gire said he received an ''abrupt'' e-mail from Joan Kindle, Harper vice president for student affairs.

''If all parties have signed the contract, it is in force,'' said an e-mail Gire received from Kindle. ''I have been told that all parties have signed the contract. If you have some feedback in regard to future contracts, I would appreciate that you bring those to an appropriate meeting.''

Kindle did not respond to requests for comment. However, according to Gire and

Harbinger editor in chief for the spring semester Jason Hopkins, all parties had not signed the contract.

''By early March, [administrators] presented me with an 'updated' editor's contract that attempted to give control of content to the school,'' Hopkins said in an e-mail. ''After discovering it violated basic Constitutional law, I destroyed the document and, when pressed by the administration, I refused to sign anything further.''

Despite the fact that Hopkins never submitted the signed contract, Gire said administrators told him that they would consider the document signed anyway and allowed Hopkins to finish out the semester.

Gire said he thinks his ouster is part of a broader plan to eliminate The Harbinger. He said the college has yet to name a replacement adviser and has rejected his recommendations for editor and managing editor in the fall.

Phil Burdick, a spokesman for the college, said administrators are looking for a new adviser and hope to find one by early September at the latest. He said if they meet their goal it is conceivable that the paper will publish again in the fall.

Burdick declined to comment on either the reason for Gire's dismissal or the new guidelines, citing ''personnel matters.''

''I knew there were new guidelines, but as far as specifics go, that might be related to Mr. Gire's employment, and that's something I can't comment on,'' Burdick said. ''I don't know if it's related or not related.''

Gire said if something is not done soon he fears the paper might just disappear.

''I stopped to smell the roses and the roses were smelling pretty bad,'' Gire said. ''I just think it's atrocious what's happened and it's so quiet and such a controlled atmosphere; they're getting away with it.''

As for Hopkins, he said he has already written The Harbinger off as a loss. He said that although he does not believe the students or the school care about the paper any more, he would still like to see the paper continue.

''I just don't want to be involved with it anymore,'' Hopkins said.

Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, news, The Harbinger