Ill. college journalists, administrators at odds over adviser's removal


ILLINOIS — When Cathy Stablein was called into a meeting with top administrators at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., the last thing on her mind was that she would lose her job advising the Courier, the school’s student newspaper.

But on May 26, Stablein was informed that after more than 20 years with the newspaper, she was being reassigned as part of an effort to revamp the school’s journalism program.

The news came during a meeting with Dean of Liberal Arts Daniel Lloyd and Dean of Student Affairs Sue Martin.

Upon first learning of the change, “I figured that there wasn’t much I’d be able to do to change their minds,” Stablein said. “My main concern was that all of this seemed to be happening so quickly.”

Stablein’s students, however, immediately saw the move as part of an administrative response to some of the Courier’s content over the past year.

Vikaas Shanker, who served as editor in chief this year, said the newspaper “covered a lot of things we felt were wrong with the college. The staff took the approach that we weren’t going to hold back, even if the stories were critical of the administration.”

Current editor Nick Davison cited various articles — including news and editorial coverage of a Board of Trustees election — that may have irked school officials.

In a letter to administrators that was posted on the newspaper’s website, Davison and Shanker wrote that they “view Cathy’s removal from her position as Courier adviser as an illegal action, and as a retaliatory attack on our legally protected rights as students and editors of college media.”

College administrators, though, have asserted that the decision to reassign Stablein had nothing to do with any Courier stories.

DuPage President Robert Breuder wrote in a May 31 e-newsletter that the claims of the student journalists “are completely unfounded. There is no connection between the content of any Courier articles and the decision to change advisers.”

College spokesman Joe Moore said the real issue at hand is severe under-enrollment in the school’s journalism department. This year, journalism courses at DuPage averaged about six students per class, which caused the college to place the department under “critical program review” status.

A program is considered “healthy” if it averages at least 20 students per class, Moore added.

“Nothing that the student editors have been saying could be further from the truth,” Moore said. “The math clearly demonstrates what we’re doing here. We’re asking a faculty member to invest herself fully in one program.”

Stablein, however, said she was never consulted about the desired changes to the journalism department, and was never asked if maintaining her duties as adviser to the Courier while working to increase enrollment would be too much to handle.

“It was just assumed that I couldn’t do it,” she said. “That was probably the most insulting part of the process.”

Stablein said she is confident that she could manage her new responsibilities while continuing to advise the Courier.

Though she acknowledged that the Courier’s content could be part of the administration’s motivation, she said “it is probably a larger issue than just that.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said any use of Courier content as impetus to reassign Stablein would be a violation of the Illinois College Campus Press Act.

According to the Act, “a collegiate media adviser must not be terminated, transferred, removed, otherwise disciplined or retaliated against for refusing to suppress protected free expression rights of collegiate student journalists and of collegiate student editors.”

For LoMonte, a good way to gauge the honesty of the administration’s claims is to ask whether they pass the “straight-face test.”

“If this decision was really meant to benefit the newspaper, you’d expect it to be done transparently and with the buy-in of those who are affected,” he said.

In his letter, Breuder said the college will begin screening candidates to find a new adviser for the fall.

Until that time, Davison and Shanker are hoping that school officials will consider reinstating Stablein. In support of their cause, they created an online petition earlier this week, with a goal of collecting 500 signatures. Currently, more than 250 supporters have signed the petition.

Shanker said the administration “is missing that the newspaper is a huge part of our journalism program. They’re prioritizing the journalism program over the newspaper, when in fact they’re one in the same. We’re hopefully going to help them see that.”

College of DuPage, Courier, Illinois, news