Ashland University’s student newspaper The Collegian found itself stripped of its beloved adviser on Aug. 21, when Ted Daniels received official notice that, after years of teaching student journalists to be dogged investigators, his pedagogy had likely cost him his job. Then, just days later, Ashland demanded that The Collegian begin submitting stories to campus officials for review before publication.
As The Collegian reported today, FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative wrote Ashland to raise concerns that these events have grave implications for press and academic freedom at the university, only for Ashland to respond by claiming it supports expressive freedoms while continuing its attempts to justify restrictions on the student press. So we wrote Ashland again, reminding the university that “its commitment to expressive freedom is of no moment if Ashland does not stand ready to back those commitments with action.”
Daniels’s dismissal calls into question press and academic freedom at Ashland
While The Collegian — like most student publications — has long had a somewhat complicated relationship with Ashland’s administration, the problems really began with an official notice that it would not renew Daniels’ contract to teach journalism and serve as The Collegian’s advisor. Ashland Dean of Arts and Sciences Katherine Brown claimed Daniels’ “perspectives on the field of journalism” and his “approach” had proven “problematic for Ashland.” The email came after several days of conversations between Daniels and Ashland administrators, during which university officials complained that Daniels taught “too much investigative journalism” and encouraged student journalists to be “overly persistent.”
Ashland’s dismissal of Daniels will also likely cast a chill on pedagogy at Ashland, as faculty will receive a message that teaching students pedagogically relevant material—for journalism, sound reporting techniques—may lead to dismissal.
The assaults on freedom of the press didn’t end with Daniels’ ouster. Within days of that email, Brown also notified The Collegian that it must now seek official review of its content before publication. As FIRE wrote Ashland on Sept. 8, “Prior review” is “often a first step toward prior restraint, the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on expressive freedoms.”
In its letter, FIRE reminded Ashland that while it is a private, religious university, its commitment to the pro-free speech “Chicago Statement,” along with its enumeration of “academic freedom” among its core values, mean students and faculty should expect broad expressive freedoms. And Collegian journalists won’t be the only ones affected by Daniels’ removal. As we stated in the letter:
Ashland’s dismissal of Daniels will also likely cast a chill on pedagogy at Ashland, as faculty will receive a message that teaching students pedagogically relevant material—for journalism, sound reporting techniques—may lead to dismissal. Properly protected, academic freedom grants faculty members substantial breathing room to determine how to approach subjects and materials relevant to their courses. This freedom, the Supreme Court has declared, is a principle “of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned.” Yet Ashland’s actions undercut, rather than support, sound pedagogy.
Ashland’s responds – but does little to address FIRE’s concerns
Ashland president Carlos Campo responded to us last Wednesday, but offered only empty assurances. He stated the university “welcome[s] objective, investigative journalism now as much as ever,” yet defended the demand for prior review of The Collegian, claiming the university aims only to ensure proper grammar in the publication.
Regardless of the motivation, prior review is never consistent with freedom of the press. We replied to Ashland this morning saying as much:
This holds true regardless of the motivation for review, whether it is concerned with viewpoints the publication espouses or simply the grammatical matters you cited. . . . [T]he censorial practice of prior review and its implied need for a newspaper’s contents to meet official approval is wholly incompatible with a free student press
In his response, Campo had also insisted Ashland dismissed Daniels for reasons unrelated to student reporting. However, despite FIRE presenting Ashland a privacy waiver signed by Daniels, giving the university permission to share with us details of his employment and nonrenewal, Campo refused to say more.
If Ashland wants to be known as an institution where students learn “How to Think, not What to Think,” it must allow The Collegian to publish without prior review.
The timing of Daniels’ ouster only adds to the suspicion: Administrators first suggested nonrenewal mere hours after a meeting between Collegian editors and Ashland Provost Amiel Jarstfer. In the meeting, Jarstfer reportedly criticized the newspaper for its headlines and for not being “respectful” of “confidential meetings,” apparently referencing Collegian reporters’ attendance at a campus town hall last spring. Daniels’ dismissal also came within days of Collegian editor Katelyn Meeks’ unsuccessful month-long effort to schedule a back-to-school interview with Campo. Campo also can’t just ignore the words of his own administrators, who clearly cited concerns with Daniels’ “approach” to journalism in his dismissal.
In our original correspondence, FIRE had told Campo that Ashland must “publicly commit to refrain from any adverse action against The Collegian’s new adviser or student journalists, and should also publicly assure all faculty — including adjunct instructors — that they enjoy full academic freedom free from official retaliation.” Ashland’s private assurance to FIRE that it celebrates investigative journalism does little to reestablish trust among students and faculty in Ashland’s promises of expressive rights.
If Ashland wants to be known as an institution where students learn “How to Think, not What to Think,” it must allow The Collegian to publish without prior review, and must publicly reassure its community that it will respect press and academic freedom going forward.
FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).
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