15 January 2005 - Saturday

The question of an independent newspaper

I have avoided dealing with this here, for the same reasons that I avoid dealing with many of these little campus imbroglios. However, since part of this story has reached the blogosphere already, with questionable information and vitriolic personal attacks, I think I should respond. I have not made a thorough investigation of the affair, but I am party to a good deal of information without being personally involved in any way. I am avoiding the use of names, however, both to protect the innocent and to dampen personal grievance as details emerge.

Recently, I learned that a group of LeTourneau students was working on an idea for an "independent" student newspaper. (There is an official student newspaper on campus; it was of unbelievably low quality last year but improved significantly under new management this fall.) This independent newspaper would operate as a nonprofit entity, but would support itself with advertisements placed by local companies. Advertisers, printing facilities, and an initial staff of student writers and editors had already been secured. Students working on the project were in a state of great anticipation. The first issue was scheduled to be published yesterday.

This week, however, I heard that plans for the newspaper had been scrubbed, upon a threat from the president of the university. I was told that a personal telephone call had come from the president to the editor of the newspaper. He had threatened expulsion and legal action against all involved. It was unclear how the president had learned of the project.

Students connected with the publication were stunned. Some had anticipated a negative response from the administration, but none had expected such a harsh preemptive move. None could see grounds for either dismissal or a lawsuit, but the mere threat was (of course) all that was required to end the project.

Word of this quashing spread quickly. Many students (current and former) expressed extreme displeasure; a professor mentioned the controversy to me with wry amusement. By Friday, the administration was issuing denials in several different directions. I received a personal email from the university chaplain, denying that the president or "anyone from the Administration" had issued any threat against this publication. A friend of mine received similar assurance, in person, from the vice president for student affairs.

At this point, then, it appears that someone is lying or has lied. While it is possible that honest miscommunication is involved, this would not account for the nature of the dispute. Because the students' accusation is specific, and the administration's denial is categorical, there must be a factual lie somewhere in the mix. Either the newspaper editor is lying about receiving the threat; or the university administration is lying about making the threat; or the president is lying to his subordinates about making the threat; or the person who telephoned the newspaper editor was lying about being the university president.

At this point, I have no reason to believe that any individual I know personally is lying. It is inconsistent with the character of most of them to lie to me about this sort of thing, and I judge it unlikely that the others would find a lie to be in their best interests. The indignation of the students I have spoken with is genuine, and the absolute nature of the administration's denial would make a lie on its part fairly easy to expose. The editor seems to have put a fair amount of effort into the legitimacy and success of the publication, and the vehemence of the university's denials could be counterproductive to the actual suppression of the newspaper. (Unless the newspaper is actually dead, the administration's denials amount nearly to an imprimatur.)

Procedurally, I think it highly unlikely that the president of the university would make a personal telephone call to a student to make such a threat; disciplinary action is arranged by the vice president for student affairs. Therefore, I suspect either that this telephone call did not take place or that it was a prank by someone posing as the president. Although I am not well acquainted with the editor of the newspaper, I am inclined to trust that he received the telephone call, so my theory at this time is that he (along with the rest of us) is the victim of a hoax.

| Posted by Wilson at 18:52 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Education Desk