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Northwest College Student Newspaper Advisor Suggests He’s Being Targeted for Critical Coverage

By April 22, 2016

The faculty advisor of the student newspaper at Wyoming’s Northwest College says administrators are retaliating against him because the paper he advises, the Northwest Trail, wrote articles critical of the school. Administrators, meanwhile, responded through an attorney that their actions are guided by accreditors’ standards.

Rob Breeding, who advises the Northwest Trail,  raised concerns that he’s being unfairly subjected to onerous new credentialing requirements—including mandated journalism courses—to keep his job and seek tenure. Breeding’s attorney detailed the complaints in a letter sent to the Powell Tribune, which summarized them:  

Breeding, who was hired to teach journalism at Northwest four years ago, said he was notified recently that he would have to complete 18 hours of post-graduate journalism courses, and his tenure track status would be delayed by a year.

Breeding said his master’s degree is in liberal studies, and not in journalism. However, he has years of experience in journalism, and the committee that selected him for the job determined that his experience, combined with his master’s degree, qualified him for the job.

“I believe I was hired fairly under existing policy, and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “I went through my third year interim review last year (with) flying colors,” he said.

Breeding said his credentials were brought into question following new rule clarifications from the Higher Learning Commission, the college’s accrediting agency.

Besides being required to complete additional post-graduate work, Breeding also was notified that his track to tenure would be extended an additional year.

Inside Higher Ed provides further details regarding the Northwest Trail’s critical coverage:

One article Breeding highlighted revealed a law enforcement instructor had accidentally left a gun on campus. A subsequent editorial by the Trail’s managing editor criticized the administration for alerting faculty and staff members to the incident but not students. “The students had to pull that story out of the administration, that it actually happened,” Breeding said.

Another article, which led to a meeting between college officials and Breeding, raised concerns from students that a college investigation into campus drinking had been mishandled and resulted in the unfair firing of five resident assistants. The Trail has also covered college spending, including a raise for its president and employee bonuses, amid an ongoing budget crunch.

A response letter sent by an attorney for Northwest College said that the “accusation that the College is making decisions based on the content of some articles published in the Northwest Trail is inaccurate and false.” According to Northwest College, concerns about Breeding’s credentials were raised in June of 2015—before the Northwest Trail’s critical articles were published.

The Trail’s coverage of Breeding’s position, however, suggests that accreditation requirements are more nuanced, and that the changes shouldn’t impact Breeding. And, as Inside Higher Ed points out, this is not the first time that Northwest College has been accused of retaliatory behavior by an advisor to the Trail.

Breeding’s attorneys have reportedly submitted an extensive public records request to Northwest College. In the meantime, FIRE will continue to monitor this dispute and watch for signs that Breeding is being targeted as a result of the Trail’s coverage.