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Some private colleges cut off all advertising for competing schools, housing and other services in student publications, despite objections from student editors and their advisers

When an ad for Hofstra University’s communications school appeared in The Pioneer, the student newspaper at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, the school’s provost wasn’t pleased.

The provost complained to the newspaper’s faculty adviser, and since then, the paper has been banned from running ads for other colleges, said Anne Winberry, co-editor of The Pioneer.

The paper had already committed to two more ads from Hofstra, but had to refund the money. Just recently, two more ads came in that the paper couldn’t accept.

“We actually have to turn away money,” Winberry said.

Since C.W. Post is a private institution and is not covered by the protections of the First Amendment, there is little The Pioneer can do legally to combat the policy.

Private universities across the country are cracking down on their student media advertising policies — a practice that would likely be considered unconstitutional at a public university. Targets are many, from alcohol to off-campus housing, but perhaps most damaging to newspaper revenues is the bar on ads for degree programs at competing schools.

“Our student newspaper is a student club. It is funded through the Student Government Association using student activity fees that the university collects,” C.W. Post Provost Paul Forestell wrote in a statement. “I have the fiduciary responsibility to make sure those funds are used in ways that most benefit our students.”

“Running ads from other universities would be a poor business decision on the part of the student newspaper,” Forestell continued. “This is not a free speech or student service issue. Our position is that it does not serve our students well to allow others to use the student newspaper to entice our students to go elsewhere.”

Forestell declined to elaborate further.

In following Forestell’s policy, Winberry said the paper had to pursue other advertising options, which placed a greater burden on the business department. Hofstra and other universities used to save them the trouble by approaching the paper for advertising space, not the other way around.

“We accepted, of course,” Winberry said, “because it’s money being generated for us.”

The student newspaper at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University is facing a similar setback, but Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Lenny Neslin seems to have accepted the school’s policy as a fact of life.

“It’s been a pretty weak fight,” Neslin said. “We tried to (fight) it last year, but our adviser talked us out of it. We have bigger battles to push for.”

The policy at Quinnipiac reads, “Advertising (in university-funded student media) that promotes the use of alcoholic beverages, off-campus housing, non-Quinnipiac degree programs, violations of any local, state or federal laws, or University policies is prohibited.”

Neslin said the policy isn’t worth fighting because The Chronicle is making plenty of money despite the ban. Quinnipiac University continues to pay for The Chronicle’s printing — meaning the private university still has a say in newspaper policy.

The Chronicle faculty adviser Lila Carney referred interview requests to Quinnipiac spokesman John Morgan before she could comment. Morgan disregarded requests to speak with Carney, instead asking for a list of questions via email.

“The university reserves the right to refuse any advertising in university-owned publications,” wrote Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, in a statement emailed by Morgan.

University officials declined to comment further.

Close calls?

Staffers at The Griffin student newspaper at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., said they managed to avoid a similar proposal in February by Dean of Students Terri Mangione.

Business Manager Kim Nowicki and another staff member sat down with Mangione to discuss her financial concerns with The Griffin featuring ads promoting other universities’ degree programs and off-campus housing.

“She wanted us to agree to a ‘no-compete clause,’” Nowicki said, “saying anything that, basically, she deems to be a direct competitor of the school, that we would agree not to let them advertise. In return for the money we would be losing, she would help us find a different source to make up for that.”

“Direct competitors” included off-campus housing and non-Canisius degree programs, Nowicki explained. As far as she is aware, The Griffin has always run those types of ads.

Mangione, however, said she was only trying to inform The Griffin of the university’s budgetary concerns. She said she never even considered a “no-compete clause,” and the paper is safe to run any ads it chooses.

Though he was not present for the initial meeting, faculty adviser Rob Kaiser said Mangione did not mention a “no-compete clause” in a later meeting on the subject between him, Mangione and his supervisor, Barb Irwin.

Last year, the paper made about $15,000 in revenue. Nowicki estimated that about half of that was made off the kinds of ads she claimed Mangione wanted to ban.

A similar situation could have occurred last year at Boise State University, a public school. Administrators, however, put a stop to any attempt at discouraging the advertising.

Brad Arendt, director of student media, said he was approached by a university employee at a freshman orientation event. She criticized the paper’s practice of running advertisements for other universities.

“Aren’t we all on the same team?” he recalled being asked.

That employee wasn’t the only person to question the practice, either. In the end, though, the criticism never escalated past lower-level administrators.

“I feel so fortunate,” Arendt said.

David Swartzlander, president of the College Media Association and Doane College student media adviser, has experience with this kind of situation. An administrator at the private school in Crete, Neb., tried to block competing ads about a decade ago.

“Well, that’s advertising,” Swartzlander told the administrator. “If you want to run an ad for Doane College, this is what it costs.”

He explained further to the administrator, “We pay some of the bills — especially our student-received paychecks — through advertising.”

Once Swartzlander had explained the situation, the administrator backed off.

Swartzlander’s luck with the situation, though, appears to be uncommon among student media that face bans on advertising. He said the CMA listserv, which includes student media advisers around the country, gets inquiries on the subject every couple years.

Advice from a lawyer

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said even student journalists at private institutions have options when facing new advertising rules.

“So if you’re at a private institution,” LoMonte said, “obviously you can’t invoke the First Amendment, but you can always appeal to practical self-interest.”

Anything that brings in money, he explained, should be viewed positively — even if the money is coming from competition. After all, LoMonte said, more competition is a good thing in the long run.

“If the campus bookstore or the campus housing can’t stack up against the competition,” he added, “then maybe it needs to be improved.”

In past situations, advisers at both public and private institutions have been concerned about their job security. If the paper tried to fight the university’s policies, the advisers could lose their jobs – so they try to stay out of it.

LoMonte said that’s exactly what advisers should do — but the student editors shouldn’t give up.

“The adviser can coach the students and teach the students principles of press freedom,” he said, “but at the end of the day, the adviser has to sit on the sidelines. The publication belongs, at the end of the day, to the students, and its continued economic welfare is their responsibility.”

The argument, he said, should be more about “economic reality” than freedom of speech or of the press.

“One of the things that people can learn out of these situations is how to use diplomacy where the law offers no recourse,” LoMonte said. “You very often have to resort to tact and negotiation to get your way. If you succeed on this small stage, it really is great preparation for the business world.”

By Nick Glunt, SPLC staff writer

reports, Spring 2012