Adviser questions demands for additional coursework, but college attorney insists there's no retaliation



A Wyoming college attorney denies that the institution unfairly treated a journalism instructor and the student newspaper due to the students’ coverage of campus events.

In a letter to the attorney of Rob Breeding, a journalism instructor at Northwest College, the college’s attorney wrote that the “accusation that the College is making decisions about Breeding's employment based on the content of articles published in the Northwest Trail is inaccurate and false.”

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Attorney Tracy Copenhaver's April 21 letter is in response to a previous letter sent by Patrick Hacker, an attorney for the Wyoming Education Association, that outlined a number of First Amendment concerns related to how the college has treated Breeding, who advises the Northwest Trail, the student-run newspaper on campus. Breeding said the university delayed his tenure track for one year and demanded that he take 18 hours of postgraduate journalism courses, even though he already holds a masters' degree and has more than 20 years' experience as a journalist and adviser.

“Not only are there concerns about improper First Amendment retaliation against Mr. Breeding as the journalism instructor/newspaper advisor, but there are now also concerns that the newspaper and the entire journalism department may also be a target of retaliation by administration,” Hacker wrote in the letter.

The concerns come after the newspaper published stories that irked college administrators, including an article on the removal of five resident assistants accused of drinking on the job.

The Higher Learning Commission, the school’s accrediting agency, recently imposed more demanding standards for the graduate-level coursework that instructors should have. But Breeding said the qualifications from the commissions are guidelines, not requirements. He also said the commission was specific in saying that colleges should not impose these qualification standards on instructors who are in good standing.

“I am complying with what they said I have to do, while also challenging it,” Breeding said Friday, mentioning that he is in the process of signing up for classes for an online graduate journalism program at the University of Missouri.

He said college made clear that they might not renew his contract unless he completes 18 hours of postgraduate journalism courses. But Breeding said a full course load in a graduate program next year would take up time he could be advising his students at the newspaper. And this semester, he said he has already been less available to his students in dealing with the administration.

As for the delay in Breeding’s tenure track status, the college’s attorney said the delay would allow him to complete the qualifications outlined by the accrediting agency.

“The idea of postponing that was to give Rob adequate time to acquire in a very reasonable time line the necessary course work to meet the HLC and [college] requirements,” Copenhaver stated in the letter.

Northwest College was the scene of a press-freedom squabble in 2010 when the Trail's adviser, Ron Feemster, was removed after unfavorable coverage of college news, including questionable sports recruiting practices and inequities in faculty and administrator pay. 

Tagged: College Media Advisers, First Amendment, First Amendment, first-amendment, Northwest College, Northwest Trail, recent-news