Inside Higher Ed is reporting today that College Media Advisers (CMA), a group dedicated to promoting student journalism, sent an official letter of censure to Western Oregon University President Dr. John Minahan. According to the CMA’s letter:
The university chose not to rehire Ms. [Susan] Wickstrom [the student paper’s adviser] after student staff of the Western Oregon Journal in spring 2007 discovered Social Security numbers and other confidential information about former students in files on the university’s public computer server. The students downloaded the information to a disk and, after consulting with Wickstrom, notified university administrators of the security breach. Subsequently, university personnel searched the newspaper’s offices, and the copy editor involved was nearly expelled.
The letter explains that CMA’s response was to first write the president and offer its assistance in “establish[ing] a healthy environment for its student media.” The letter adds:
Initially, you seemed receptive to our offer; however, I have learned that you have refused any reasonable attempts by Mr. Witherspoon to assist and, in fact, hung up on him during his last phone call to you.
Therefore, the appropriate course of action has been for the CMA board to vote censure. Please understand that censure is an action that we take with great care and reasonable patience.
The letter concludes by explaining the steps the university could take to have the censure removed.
FIRE is no stranger to the ways in which colleges often attempt to punish papers for their reporting by targeting their advisers. As we reported earlier this month, the recognition of this problem led to the passing of California’s Journalism Teacher Protection Act. Will wrote at the time that this new bill “prohibits school administrators from engaging in various forms of retaliation against journalism teachers, student media advisors or any other employee involved with a student publication on the basis of that involvement.”
Recognizing the dire importance of preserving a free press on campus, FIRE and CMA have worked together in the past, and we look forward to returning to its annual conference this spring. We will provide more information on the CMA conference as the date approaches.