Campus Press under pressure
After uproar over satirical column, online paper to be freed from curriculum
Hundreds of students at the University of Colorado rallied in February to protest hate speech and racism. During the rally, a student spoke to a crowd about campus apathy towards intolerance. “It is this attitude of complacency that has allowed the demon of injustice and intolerance to breed and creep up on us once again,” senior Jarvis Fuller said.
The source of “injustice and intolerance” was a Feb. 18 column published in the Campus Press, a student publication, titled “If it’s war the Asians want… It’s war they’ll get,” by student Max Karson.
The column said Asians “hate us all” and called for a “hunt” where captured Asians would be “hog-tied” and “forced to eat bad sushi.” A letter Karson wrote to the Boulder Daily Camera said the column was intended to be satire and mock “racist white people.” But the satire was lost on many students and university officials who deemed it offensive and hateful. The column sent the campus reeling.
The Campus Press to this point has been a student-run online publication produced as a for-credit class in the journalism department. Although the publication has an adviser, Amy Herdy, she maintains a hands-off approach when it comes to content. The journalism department has recognized the Campus Press as editorially independent for more than 20 years, and after next fall plans to make the publication independent of the journalism curriculum.
On Feb. 20, University Chancellor G.P. “Bud” Peterson released a statement apologizing to Colorado’s Asian communities for the column.
“The column was a poor attempt at social satire laden with offensive references, stereotypes and hateful language,” Peterson wrote.
Campus Press suspended the opinion section after the public backlash for about a week to set new policies for publishing opinions. As part of the new guidelines, any opinion dealing with “race, sex, religion” or “anything that you can read and can be misconstrued” will be read by all four managing editors, said Jason Bartz, Campus Press online director and the incoming editor in chief.
And any material deemed “really controversial” will be read by the entire editorial staff before being published, he said. Staffers also agreed to set up a “Student Diversity Advisory Board” and participate in diversity-awareness workshops.
Journalism faculty met on March 3 to discuss the future of the Campus Press. At the meeting, Paul Voakes, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication authorized a faculty “fact-finding” committee to examine the decision-making process that led to the publishing of Karson’s column.
Students became concerned about the fairness of the “fact-finding process.” Campus Press Editor in Chief Cassie Hewlings said the committee was being secretive about the process and was requesting anonymous, one-on-one interviews with students.
Voakes eventually disbanded the committee because he said “the committee felt that it was getting so little cooperation from the key figures in the Campus Press controversy.”
Journalism faculty met with Campus Press staffers on April 2 to discuss the possibility of separating the publication from the journalism department. The meeting, which was taped and posted on the Campus Press Web site, quickly became tense as Herdy commented on a lack of faculty support for an independent Campus Press.
Tom Yulsman, a journalism professor, discounted Herdy’s claim and said the faculty had always supported an independent Campus Press. Students at the meeting felt the tension in the room.
“This isn’t dialogue, I don’t see support from you guys,” Monica Stone, a Campus Press reporter, said during the meeting. “Just the tone of voices being used … that doesn’t make me feel supported as a student reporter.”
Faculty expressed concern about how the publication would survive financially and function without the educational guidance of the journalism department.
“If we cut Campus Press loose, is it going to live or die?” said Len Ackland, a journalism professor, during the meeting.
But at their April 16 meeting, the faculty voted unanimously to take the Campus Press out of its “curricular twilight zone,” Voakes said. Peterson made his official announcement in an April 30 column in the Colorado Daily. A new charter should be ready by November, Voakes said, and the paper will become independent of the classroom starting in spring 2009.
Current plans call for it to retain its university budget and funding for a full-time faculty adviser, and it also will keep its space in the journalism building at least until fall 2009, Voakes said.
Although some might perceive the change as a punishment, both Voakes and Bartz said it is nothing of the sort.
“This is kind of their way of washing their hands of us,” Bartz said, “but at the same time, it’s something we always wanted.”
reports, Spring 2008