September 30, 2010 Leave a comment
Printing of student newspaper continues after attempted halt by administration
Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010
Following a month-long struggle with college administrators that caused cancellation of its first issue of the academic year, the Southwestern College Sun student newspaper was published today by a Los Angeles area printer with funding provided by a successful television writer who once attended SWC.
State and national journalism organizations, the Southwestern College community and Emmy Award-winning writer J. Michael Straczynski rallied to help the student staff of the Sun to print this issue after Vice-President of Academic Affairs Dr. Mark Meadows told Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb earlier this month not to print the Sun until a new printing contract could be put out to bid.
Meadows cited a dormant 20-year-old policy that he and Superintendent Dr. Raj K. Chopra said they discovered in July while reviewing district policies for a report to the state accreditation commission. Southwestern is currently on probation with the commission and is at risk of losing its accreditation after being cited for 10 administrative deficiencies.
Branscomb and his immediate supervisor, Dean Donna Arnold of the School of Arts and Communication, were threatened with disciplinary action or termination if the Sun printed without a new contract. Branscomb said he offered a compromise that would allow the Sun to continue operation with its existing printer while the district developed bids for a long-term arrangement. Meadows rejected the plan and insisted the policy had to be followed. After a period of two
weeks, the district told Branscomb the Sun could be printed again, but it was too late
to salvage Isssue #1.
“Adherence to one aspect of that policy communicates adherence to the policy in its entirety,” said Shannon Pagano, volunteer assistant advisor for the Sun. Amanda Abad, production manager for the Sun, said the editorial board asked Branscomb to step out of negotiations regarding the decision to print the paper.
“The administration was negotiating with the wrong people,” said Abad. “This is between the administration and, we, the students.”
Administration said that while the policy appears to be ill-timed, policy is policy.
“They have to be in compliance with the same business practices that every other department of campus is compliant with,” said Chris Bender, spokesman for the college.
Chopra and Meadows said they discovered policy 6063, which has been dormant for more than 20 years, while they were reviewing policies for an accreditation report. It was originally found in the first week of July but was not brought to Branscomb until days before Issue 1 of the Sun was to be printed.
The printing of the Sun was stalled while administrators reviewed the policy to make sure the Sun was in compliance. Administrators said the protection of public funds, particularly the Sun’s printing cost, was the reason for the delay.
“I really expect that the taxpayers expect from us to make sure that their money is being spent responsibly,” Chopra told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Student journalists and faculty members at SWC call the move a strong-armed tactic to muzzle the media only weeks before a controversial governing board election and a critical accreditation report. “They’re afraid of what might be in the issue at such an important time,” said Andy MacNeill, president of SWC’s faculty union. “I think the Sun, being the student voice, has really been the place where people in the community look to for what’s really going on.”
Bender said the administration is not attempting to stifle the Sun’s content. “They can still publish their information,” said Bender. “They have an online presence, a robust one. They control it. They can publish anything they want, anytime they want.”
In addition to details regarding printing for the school’s paper, Policy 6063 alsocalls for the creation of a newspaper oversight board composed of administrators, student government representatives and faculty. It empowers the oversight board to ratify and fire the editor-in-chief, and weigh in on the newspaper’s content. John Carter, managing editor for the Sun, said the oversight board is a conflict of interest and could potentially be abused.
“This creates a situation with the potential for intimidation and coercion,” said Carter. “Our current situation with the college administration is a perfect example of why this is a dysfunctional idea. It is a de facto conflict of interest for administrators and groups like the Associated Student Organization that we cover to have powers to select and fire the editor of the newspaper.”
The Sun is no stranger to controversial content. Over the last several years it has printed critical editorials and hard news stories exploring some of the administration’s more contentious decisions.
A large number of these stories have won awards from organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists. College governing board member Dr. Jean Roesch said the negativity printed in the school newspaper harms the reputation of the college. “I am anxious to see more positive things being said in the newspaper,” said Roesch. “We don’t need to continue with this negative rudeness. I’ve never been treated like this. They think they can say anything they want. They have been cruel, disrespectful and I want to see this stopped in board meetings and in the media.” Pagano said the Sun’s first responsibility is to print the news. “Yes, the Sun has printed articles critical of the administration but they were a result of the administration’s poor decisions,”she said.
“The Sun’s first responsibility is to print the news, good or bad. If these are the decisions the college is making, than this is the news we print. We look forward to being able to print more positive stories when the administration starts making better decisions.” The decision to stall the printing of the paper came as a shock to the students enrolled in the Campus Newspaper Production course.
Many felt personally attacked by the administration.”I paid my money to take this class to produce a paper. If you take away that opportunity, you’re hindering my education,” said Alyssa Simental, assistant production manager for the Sun. “You can’t tell me the administration at this college didn’t have dreams once. And now they’re taking away mine.”
After local and national media reports of the decision, Branscomb, Meadows and faculty union grievance chair Robert Unger met with Chopra. Branscomb said he raised four issues with the college president, including the printing controversy, the threatened arrest of three students stopped by comapus police for attempting to take a Sun computer off campus, the plan to remove the Sun link from the college’s home page and Bender’s order that no campus employees talk to Sun staff without his permission. Chopra directed Meadows to work with the newspaper to find resolutions.
The issues remain unresolved.