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Calif. college paper ordered to halt printing

September 17, 2010

CALIFORNIA -- A student newspaper in California had its print production halted this week after administrators began enforcing a 20-year-old policy.

The student newspaper at Southwestern College, The Sun, was informed it was in violation of a policy regarding the paper's printing contract and would have to comply before it could print its first issue. The policy requires the paper to follow the same "purchasing policy" of the college, which requires a bidding period and approval by the SC Governing Board.

Max Branscomb, adviser to The Sun, said earlier in the week the dean of the School of Arts and Communication relayed the message to him from the vice president for student affairs. The soonest the paper could get approval would be in November.

"Well conveniently, the next available Governing Board meeting is in mid-November," he said. "In the meantime, there's a very, very controversial election on Nov. 2 that involves three of the incumbent board members."

But college spokesman Chris Bender said the elections had nothing to do with the decision to halt printing of the paper. He said he was not sure why the policy had not been enforced before, but college officials discovered it during an annual check of its campus policies. The policy is dated July 1990.

"Once you find out this policy exists, you have to comply with it," Bender said.

Diana Inocencio, editor of The Sun, disagrees that the timing is a coincidence.

"I personally think it's obvious that they don't want us to print our papers because they feel like the community vote would be swayed by what we say in our paper," she said.

Branscomb said he was under the impression the policy was removed in 1999. However, after a turnover in personnel, the policy remained unchanged.

Regardless of what happens, Branscomb and Inocencio said printing the paper would go forward with or without funding from the college. Branscomb said the paper has received support from the community and has raised enough privately to print their first issue.

"We are definitely going to put out our first issue, with the blessing of the administration or not," Inocencio said.

Bender also said The Sun still has the ability to publish on its website, and pointed to a story it ran about the current situation.

"I think the key here is that we're not preventing, and no one is discussing, the newspaper's ability to publish or report out their stories," he said.

But both Branscomb and Inocencio aren't satisfied without the printed product. Inocencio said The Sun just recently got the website and the staff is still learning the potential of the online medium.

"We still believe the heart and soul of The Sun is a printed paper," he said.

Three editors from The Sun were also detained by police earlier this week on the suspicion of theft. The editors were taking an old computer to the Apple Store to have its memory wiped clean. After the situation was explained to police, the students were let go. However, a few days later, the police returned and said they had been ordered to pursue a criminal investigation, Branscomb said.

By James Heggen, SPLC staff writer

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© 2010 Student Press Law Center

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