Fired CU adviser says she was told to prior review stories

COLORADO -- The former newspaper adviser at the University of Colorado at Boulder was told to give administrators a "heads up" about controversial stories prior to publication, according to personnel documents.

Amy Herdy was fired as adviser to the CU Independent in June after years of dispute over the online publication. Herdy claims Dean Paul Voakes fired her in retaliation for defending student editors, a claim Voakes denies.

"I got fired because I put my dean on notice about the harassment of my students, and made it clear that I was going to encourage them to take action," Herdy said.

The controversy surrounding the publication stems from a 2008 column that appeared in what was then the Campus Press. The column called for Asians to be "hog-tied" and "forced to eat bad sushi." The author claimed it was a satire, but hundreds of students protested what they perceived as racist comments.

Following the uproar, faculty at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication voted to separate the publication from the school's curriculum, while continuing to provide space and funding.

Herdy said the relationship between student journalists and journalism faculty has been tense ever since. Some faculty members demanded the CUI vacate its newsroom space at the journalism school, she said.

The university has been under intense public scrutiny after announcing plans to restructure and possibly discontinue its journalism program. The move follows a scathing internal report by former school advisory board member Doug Looney, who resigned earlier this year.

Voakes told Herdy on June 21 she was being fired because he wanted to take the publication "in another direction" and wanted to hire someone with more of a business focus, according to an audio recording of the conversation provided by Herdy. Voakes was not aware he was being recorded.

"This will kill them," Herdy says on the recording. "I really wonder, do you want to see it succeed? I mean, do you? Because this will be almost the final death knell for them."

"I just, I just see the CUI dying this slow death anyway," Voakes responds.

According to a 2008 employment evaluation, also provided by Herdy, Voakes said the adviser should be able "to read any copy that is being read by student editors."

In the evaluation, Voakes quotes the College Media Advisers Code of Ethics and writes that it "implies that a working arrangement of 'monitoring from a short distance' and 'heads-up' is acceptable... It should start with your ability to be aware of every aspect of editorial planning in every section of the paper, on a daily basis."

Voakes denies he ever asked Herdy to prior review the newspaper.

"That is a key question," he said. "And the answer is 'no.' Just because I don't believe in it, and the charter actually explicitly would forbid that. It's just not part of our concept of a student newspaper, of student journalism."

After being told of his earlier statements in the evaluation, Voakes said he was referring to a "voluntary arrangement" which represented his "understanding at the time of how you could run right up to the line without going over into prior review."

Sally Renaud, president of College Media Advisers, said the code of ethics does not permit mandatory prior review.

"It does not imply that an adviser should be allowed to read everything at all," Renaud said. "What it says is we would want the students to initiate the dialogue and the conversation."

Voakes confirmed his statement that Herdy was fired more for business than journalistic reasons, but declined to comment further citing personnel privacy concerns.

Danielle Alberti, former editor in chief of the CUI, said the relationship between students and faculty was often tense.

"As editor I heard a lot of students say that they were a little bit afraid to tell the faculty members that they were on staff at the CU Independent, mostly because students who admitted that were kind of openly mocked in class," she said.

Voakes said the tension was actually between Herdy and the faculty, and that the environment has become more positive since the new adviser started in August.

Herdy, who has nearly 20 years of reporting experience and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, is currently looking for work. She applied for unemployment in July, and on Monday the university dropped its appeal of a state finding that she was not "at fault for the job separation."

She said she decided to go public with the allegations after the university announced its restructuring plans.

"I waited and waited for CU to do the right thing, and they're not doing the right thing," Herdy said. "And accreditation is nearing, and I think that the public deserves to know, I think the accreditation committee deserves to know, and I think the parents of these students deserve to know that students don't come first there at the journalism school at CU-Boulder."

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