A Catholic college in New York State is being accused of unjustly punishing a student newspaper and its faculty adviser for criticizing the school. A spokesman with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says the adviser’s dismissal by Le Moyne College in Syracuse reflects a growing trend on U.S. campuses toward administrative control of student press.
Professor Alan Fischler had served as faculty adviser for Le Moyne’s student newspaper, The Dolphin, ever since he was chosen by its staff in 1996. Also, just last year he wrote a column for the paper, voicing disapproval over the college’s dismissal of graduate education major Scott McConnell after he penned a paper expressing his conservative views.
Le Moyne has now "released" Fischler from his position with The Dolphin, reportedly telling him the school wants a "more hands-on" adviser. The professor, who continues to teach at the college, will be replaced by a faculty adviser selected by the administration, a move that has prompted a strike by the student staff of the campus newspaper in protest.
Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, feels Le Moyne is trying to punish The Dolphin staff for criticizing the school’s actions in the Scott McConnell matter. FIRE brought public attention to McConnell’s case last year, after the school kicked the degree candidate out of its teacher education program for writing a paper advocating corporal punishment and opposing multiculturalism.
Lukianoff believes Fischler has become a scapegoat in Le Moyne’s attempt to suppress criticism or dissent from The Dolphin. However, the FIRE spokesman observes, "You’re not a very effective student paper if you can’t be critical of the university — particularly one that did something as outrageous as Le Moyne did last year, flatly expelling someone because of his beliefs."
The dismissal of The Dolphin’s faculty adviser is part of a rising trend, Lukianoff contends. "We’ve seen this on a number of campuses," he says, "and it’s in violation of what a faculty adviser to a student newspaper has always been, or at least has been for decades now."
Ordinarily, the free-speech advocate points out, the faculty adviser is meant to be "someone that the student paper can go to and ask for advice on professionalism [or] on grammar and spelling." But in most cases, he insists, these advisers "don’t have power. They don’t have editorial power over the student paper."
The national organization of student newspaper advisers, College Media Advisers (CMA), has sanctioned Le Moyne for attempting to censor The Dolphin. In a May 3 statement, the group said the censure against the school "serves as a warning … that Le Moyne fails to value the exercise of free speech and the value of a free press on the college campus." FIRE has joined CMA in condemning the school’s actions.
Lukianoff says Le Moyne’s dismissal of Fischler as newspaper adviser is only the latest example of a pattern of increasing university control over student media. The president of FIRE warns that, if organizations and individuals do not take a stand in opposition to this encroachment, independent student media may become a thing of the past.