Longtime adviser barred from newsroom at Saint Louis University

MISSOURI - A longtime adviser to Saint Louis University's student newspaper, The University News, may no longer enter the paper's newsroom, university Provost Joe Weixlmann ordered Tuesday.

In a June 3 e-mail to Professor Avis Meyer, Weixlmann wrote he would "block your access to the newsroom" if Meyer continued to assist the News within its facilities.

"I'm doing this for nothing," Meyer, who is a volunteer adviser at the News, said. "I've won awards and have worked in the business for over 30 years. It's a benefit to them and the school."

Meyer believes his removal from the News comes as the result of a long and bitter relationship with university's president, Father Lawrence Biondi. For example, Meyer accused Biondi of plagiarism in an October 2005 column.

"Any bad press the university received, whether it came from The University News or from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch," where Meyer served as a copy editor, "Biondi blamed on my doing. He goes ballistic," Meyer said.

Jeff Fowler, spokesman for the university, said Meyer's removal from the News is not related to his disagreements with Biondi but is in response to Meyer's unprofessional behavior.

"Dr. Meyer has disagreed with the newspaper's appointed adviser in front of student reporters and editors. This has contributed to a problematic working situation for all involved," Fowler said. "This is not Dr. Meyer's newspaper."

Meyer, a tenured professor at the private university since 1982, has been serving as an adviser to the News in some capacity for more than 30 years. In June 2007 the newspaper adopted a new charter and appointed Jason L. Young to the position of official News adviser. Meyer stayed, however, on a volunteer basis.

"They took away my stipend as faculty adviser. They thought that by re-writing the charter I would automatically go away," Meyer said.

Katie Lewis, an SLU graduate and outgoing Editor in Chief of the News, said Meyer served as a source of institutional memory for the paper. She said Meyer would come into the office to help copy edit and write headlines.

"If the administration would come into the office on production nights, they would see how harmless he really is. I don't think any student in the newsroom wants him gone," Lewis said.

According to Lewis, in executive meetings during the Spring 2008 semester, The University News Advisory Board made it clear that Meyer would no longer be welcome at the News. According to the new charter, the board is made up of members approved by Vice President for Student Development Kent Porterfield.

"I told them that they'll have to enforce what they say because there's no way I would ever ask him to leave," Lewis said.

Young said that although he did not directly collaborate with Meyer, he also did not avoid his input. When asked if he wanted Meyer removed from the newsroom, Young said it is not his responsibility to advocate for or argue against Meyer's involvement with the newspaper.

"That is a decision made at the academic level. It is not my role to tell a faculty member not to show up," Young said.

Meyer told the SPLC in June 2007 that the new charter, which replaced one drafted in the 1990s, gave university administrators too much control over the News.

"It's prior restraint if ever I've seen it," Meyer said at the time.

In reaction to the charter, Meyer set into motion plans to separate the News from the university. Part of the separation involved filing a trademark request to register the News' nameplate with the office of Missouri's Secretary of State. The nameplate read, "University News, A Student Voice Serving Saint Louis University Since 1921."

On October 2007 the university filed a lawsuit against Meyer for trademark infringement because he attempted to register the university's name "for his own purposes," Fowler said. The suit confused Meyer, since it came only after he had relinquished the trademark into the public domain when plans to separate the News from the university dissolved. The suit remains active.

The university said it had asked Meyer twice, in letters sent June 22 and August 16, to relinquish the trademark before they filed a lawsuit. Meyer said he was out of the country when the letters were sent.

Most recently, Meyer said university attorneys have asked him for nearly 30 years of syllabi from every course he has taught at the university. Meyer believes the request is an attempt to find a reason to revoke his tenure at the university.

"They've tried to bludgeon me financially with lawsuits to stop me from working on the paper. They're now trying to physically stop me and soon I think they'll try to take my tenure," Meyer said.

Missouri, news, Saint Louis University, The University News