Removing Newspaper Advisors For Not Censoring: A Serious Threat to Press Freedom

August 12, 2008

After our coverage last week of a California bill designed to protect journalism teachers at the high school and college level from retaliation from administrators upset about the content of student-produced newspapers, we have received numerous inquiries about the seriousness of this problem. As we have mentioned before, the bill, SB 1370, was sponsored by California State Senator Leland Yee and is currently on its way to Governor Schwarzenegger’s office for his signature after being approved by the state legislature. While some may find it unfortunate that the issue has risen to the level that legislators feel they need to address it, FIRE is able to attest to the existence of such problems.

FIRE’s best example of such blatant administrative strong-arming in recent memory was our case at Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State). As Greg explained, the case centered on a cartoon which satirized, according to the cartoon’s author, "a common Thanksgiving tradition of a host griping about what their guest has brought to the dinner." Check out the cartoon for yourself:

After it was published, the cartoon started a major controversy which led the college to eventually fire the paper’s press advisor. (As FIRE can attest, while college administrators often receive many perks, a backbone isn’t always among them.)

Another easy example is our 2006 case at LeMoyne College involving Alan Fischler, a professor who had served for ten years as the faculty advisor for the student newspaper. As we explained in our press release, Fischler was "dismissed as adviser when administrators told him that they wanted a more ‘hands-on’ adviser who would supposedly make the newspaper a ‘showpiece’ for the college." Even more disturbing was the revelation that his replacement would be hand-picked by the college, a decision that sparked a strike by the student staff and censure from College Media Advisers, a national organization of student journalism advisors.

Sadly, the problem that Senator Yee’s bill is designed to fix is a troublesome and an all-too-common occurrence. FIRE will keep monitoring the progress of this legislation and will continue to be vigilant about this threat on campuses nationwide.