Adviser quits, entire newspaper staff replaced at Pa. college

PENNSYLVANIA -- Student journalists at a community college in Pennsylvania were told this month they are no longer qualified to be on staff after conflicts arose between the newspaper and the college’s administration in the fall semester.

All five staff members of the Community College of Philadelphia’s Student Vanguard were asked to reapply for their positions over the holiday break. They were then told requirements for staff members had changed, increasing the credit hours needed per semester from three to six and the GPA requirement from 2.5 to 3.0. The paper’s top editors said they are not enrolled for six credits.

Jerry Whitworth, former managing editor, said the policy changes were made because critical remarks about the administration were frequently published in the Student Vanguard following a fall semester incident in which the student newspaper was shut down.

Administrators temporarily shut the newspaper down in August because it failed to move its office equipment to a different, smaller office.

“They got rid of the staff. They decided a couple weeks ago that they were going to alter the requirements for being a member of the Vanguard and one of those requirements is... you would have to have six credits,” Whitworth said. “Because of the change they made, myself and the editor no longer qualify because we’re graduating soon and we don’t have to take a six-credit course load.”

Suzanne Manness, former adviser for the Student Vanguard, said she left her position for health reasons and because she could not work with administrators anymore.

Manness said she regrets her decision to leave because she feels it may have allowed the college’s administration to force the existing news staff out.

“I regret it now,” Manness said. “Had I not quit, I think they would’ve had to put up with me for another year. They fired the editor-in-chief and the managing editor and implemented new procedures that ensured they could not have the job. It was preplanned.”

Former editor-in-chief Wendy Destin said he questions the mid-year move and thinks the paper’s criticism sparked the decision to force the staff out.

“I wouldn’t have minded those implications if it was at the end of the school year,” Destin said. “I understand you’re bringing in a new adviser, new staff and new rules. OK, that’s fine at that point, but doing it mid-year, we [already] have our production running. There’s no reason why you should have to reapply for a job you’ve been doing before.”

Anthony Twyman, a spokesman for CCP, denied the allegations that there had been policy changes during the break.

“That’s incorrect,” Twyman said. “There’s been a requirement that a student in order to be [on the Student Vanguard’s staff] had to have one course, at least a minimum of one course. I believe the [GPA] they have to have is a 2.5 and that still remains the case. That has not changed. It was that way before and it is still that way now.”

An online recruiting letter for the newspaper, however, indicated the alleged policy changes are indeed in effect.

The letter states that applicants for the vacated positions must “be a registered student at CCP currently enrolled in at least six credit hours, have completed at least twelve credit hours at the college level and be a student in good standing with a GPA of 3.0 or better.”

Twyman said a new student staff has been hired under Nathan House, the newspaper’s new adviser, and should publish its first issue in early February.

An e-mail from House to Whitworth also suggests policy changes were made during the break.

“Thank you for your application, but you need to be a registered student taking at least six credits. Thank you for all you’ve done for The Vanguard in the past,” House wrote in the e-mail, supplied by Whitworth.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said the legality of the policy changes depends on the administrators’ motive.

“Whether or not what they did is illegal depends on why they did it. The easy thing is to look at it objectively and say that this is a dumb decision,” Goldstein said. “It’s possible that they make dumb decisions all the time. It’s also possible that they made this decision because they don’t like the newspaper staff members.”

Goldstein said he looks at several different factors to determine what motivated the changes.

“Did they make this change at an unusual time, like in the middle of the year vs. between staffs? Did they make this change immediately after they had a conflict with the staff on another issue? Did they set the bar just high enough to disqualify everybody on the staff? It seems to me like all three things are true, which suggests to me that this isn’t a mere blunder, this is a calculated attempt to retaliate against the newspaper staff because they got into a disagreement about their office earlier,” Goldstein said.

House did not respond to requests for comment.

Community College of Philadelphia, news, Pennsylvania, Student Vanguard

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