College media group censures Md. university over adviser's firing

MARYLAND -- A national journalism organization censured a Maryland university July 23 after the school failed to renew the newspaper and yearbook adviser's contract.

The College Media Advisers Board of Directors voted to censure Morgan State University in Baltimore after an investigation conducted by the organization.

CMA works with both professional and educational media organizations throughout the country. The organization adopted the "Adviser Advocate Policy" to extend help to member advisers and establish a formal process for dealing with situations like Morgan State. The university is the the eighth school to be censured since the policy was put into place in 1998.

CMA issues censures through the policy after investigation and offers mediation. Once a school is censured however, the institution must comply with a series of demands to get the sanction removed. As part of the censure, CMA sends out press releases to local, state and national media informing them of the school's alleged misconduct.

CMA found "legally questionable" practices were used against student journalists and adviser Denise Brown according to a letter sent by CMA to university President Earl Richardson.

Among other concerns, CMA officials objected to the university's replacement for Brown according to the letter. Natasha Lewis' appointment to Brown's position posed problems for students because she has no journalism training and has an "assumed" allegiance to an administrator criticized by the newspaper according to the letter. Lewis works under Taliaferro as an assistant coordinator in the office of student activities.

Also, CMA stated it is concerned the administration is retaliating against Brown for the speech of her students.

In an e-mail obtained by CMA, university Vice President for Student Affairs Ricardo Perry suggested that while Brown's removal was not based entirely on the work of her students, their performance was a factor.

CMA President Ken Rosenauer called the e-mail a "smoking gun" and said "there was little doubt along the development of this situation that administrators were unhappy with the way the newspaper criticized them."

Rosenauer said in the letter CMA offered to send an adviser advocate to help "defuse" the situation and act as mediator but the organization has not received a reply.

According to the censure letter, the school must meet three criterion before the organization will work to remove the censure. CMA requests that Brown be reinstated to her original role, the school adopt policies ensuring students will not face prior review and that there be written guidelines for the performance of journalism advisers.

Brown's troubles began when Floyd Taliaferro III, director of the university student center and student activities, wrote a memorandum June 12 informing Brown that renewal of her contract was contingent on his meeting with reporters from the school's newspaper, the Spokesman, about published stories.

The stories, three of which were editorials, questioned the handling of student government funds including inaccuracies in the budget.

A week later, another university official sent Brown a letter explaining that although she had "helped to significantly improve the quality of life" for students and faculty, her contract would not be renewed.

Chris Evans, CMA adviser advocate, said the organization has done all it can and it is waiting to hear back from the university.

"I would hope Morgan State would contact us and work with us to remove the censure," said Evans who investigated the case. "We want to help them improve."

For More Information:

  • Md. media adviser's contract not renewed after students fail to meet with officials over stories News Flash, 7/13/2009

  • Baltimore, College Media Advisers, Maryland, md, Morgan State University, news