N.D. high school newspaper adviser removed from position

School cites content, teaching philosophy

NORTH DAKOTA -- A North Dakota high school newspaper adviser said he has been removed from his position because school officials disagreed with the content of the publication and his leadership philosophy.

Jeremy Murphy, who advises both yearbook and newspaper at West Fargo High School in West Fargo, N.D., said administrators removed him from his role as adviser of the Packer, the school's paper, after questioning his leadership.

"I felt the role of the adviser should be to advise," said Murphy, who has been at West Fargo for two years. "And they felt it should be to control."

So, roughly two weeks ago, school officials told Murphy they were finding someone else to fill the newspaper adviser role. He kept his assignment teaching sophomore English and his position as yearbook adviser.

During his time at West Fargo, administrators have voiced their dissatisfaction with the paper's content several times, Murphy said. Most of officials' concerns stemmed from student columns or editorial pieces, though a few news articles on issues students felt strongly about bothered them as well.

Murphy said officials did not give him specifics about his removal, but said he feels they had problems with the students' coverage of sensitive topics like the school's recent switch to block scheduling. Murphy noted the students always covered both sides of an issue, though administrators often disagreed with the critical side.

Emma DeJong, one of Murphy's students, said officials were also upset over an article on teacher morale, in which some teachers voiced their opinions on the school atmosphere.

Because the newspaper adviser position is a voluntary one, which the school likens to a sports coach, they can easily remove the adviser without much reason, Murphy said.

District and school officials were not available this week, but declined comment to other news organizations.

The whole situation has bothered Murphy, a former reporter himself.

"It kind of alters my concept of what our purpose is as educators," Murphy said. "I thought I was giving students the skills to succeed in the journalism profession beyond high school and, as it turns out, I was actually punished for teaching these students to be professionals."

Recent West Fargo graduate Meagan McDougall, this year's co-editor-in-chief, said the Packer staff is "extremely disappointed" to lose Murphy's guidance.

"He's honestly the perfect adviser," McDougall said. "He balances helping us look at every aspect of a story while also stepping back and allowing us to explore it on our own."

DeJong -- who was the Packer's news editor until graduating this year -- agreed with McDougall, citing Murphy's leadership philosophy.

"He was the adviser, meaning that he wasn't an editor and he wasn't a writer, he just oversaw what we did," she said.

Instead of taking editorial control over the publication, students said Murphy drilled legal and ethical journalism lessons into their heads. McDougall noted any new staff members go through a month of "boot camp," learning everything from basic writing to student press laws and Supreme Court cases.

DeJong created a Facebook group earlier this week to show support for Murphy. The page -- called "Murphy's Army," which had 190 members by Friday -- asked students to express their concerns to school board members and administrators.

The students are also trying to gain media attention, in hopes that school officials will eventually reinstate Murphy. This week, they spoke on several radio shows and the local nightly news.

Both DeJong and McDougall said school officials rehired a swimming coach three years ago after community members complained the removal was hurting the program.

"Mr. Murphy is more than a teacher," DeJong said. "He's a man who cares so much about all of his students, wants us to go far and in my two years of newspaper, has pushed me and all the other students to become the best journalists."

Murphy noted the Packer recently won best overall school newspaper at the Northern Interscholastic Press Association's state awards. This year's North Dakota Journalist of the Year also came from West Fargo -- the first time the school has won the award.

"I'm really upset to see him go because I know how much we as a staff and as a paper have improved over the past two years," McDougall said.

McDougall said she thinks school officials want an adviser who takes more editorial control over the paper, instead of Murphy's hands-off approach.

Both students said they would fight for Murphy's rights because they are confident he would fight for theirs.

"He is always supportive, and he will stand up for our paper until the end," McDougall said. "He stood up for our paper until he got removed from his position because he is not going to compromise our rights as students in order to keep his job. I respect that a lot."

N.D., news, North Dakota, West Fargo, West Fargo High School