For Immediate Release:
Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744,
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator,(317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are concerned that Southwestern College journalism instructor Max Branscomb, the 2009 recipient of SPJ’s Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award, will not be provided reassigned time to advise the college’s student newspaper, The Sun.
The Society’s leaders disagree with the school’s decision and are concerned that the removal of reassigned time is perceived as an attempt to punish the award-winning newspaper for recent critical coverage of Southwestern College President Raj Chopra.
Criticism of Chopra’s actions began in the college community after he fired five staff members April 15 and reorganized some of the college’s schools after allegedly not allowing faculty to submit feedback. On May 8, The Sun ran an article on Chopra’s actions and reported the college faculty’s choice to vote “No Confidence” in Chopra. Also printed in that issue was a piece titled “Controversy has followed Chopra” and another piece on students and employees speaking out against the reorganization.
The college insists that the removal of reassigned time is due to state budget problems. Reassigned time is a management action that releases full-time faculty from teaching duties in order to perform other tasks. Those other tasks can be research, advising, acting as an administrator or any other duty that requires extensive time.
SPJ leaders sent a letter to President Chopra and five members of the Southwestern Community College District Governing Board speaking out against the removal of Branscomb’s reassigned advising time and urging the school to reconsider. The letter, mailed on Aug. 11, is included below.
Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists were troubled to learn that journalism instructor Max Branscomb will not be provided with reassigned time to advise The Sun, the student newspaper at Southwestern College.
Although Mr. Branscomb will be allowed to work with The Sun’s editors and reporters as an overload assignment, we are concerned that the removal of reassigned time is being seen as an attempt to punish the award-winning newspaper for recent critical coverage of Southwestern College President Raj Chopra.
We understand that Mark Meadows, vice president for academic affairs, has publicly explained that the removal of reassigned time was a response to the state’s budget problems, but the timing of the move is causing some at the College to suspect that the critical coverage was, at least, a part of the reason for the change.
The timing of the move is unfortunate for another reason. Mr. Branscomb recently has been selected to receive SPJ’s Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award, and removing reassigned time sends a message to your community that excellence at Southwestern College is not rewarded. Instead, administrators are making it more difficult for Mr. Branscomb to work with the student newspaper.
The Society’s Distinguished Teaching Award has been presented each year since 1966, and recipients have come from some of the largest and most prestigious schools in the country, including Stanford University, Northwestern University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. We are proud to add Mr. Branscomb and Southwestern College to our list of winners, but we are concerned that removing reassigned time will needlessly harm The Sun and all of the student journalists who depend on Mr. Branscomb’s guidance.
We urge you to reconsider your decision and provide Mr. Branscomb with reassigned time so that he may continue to do an excellent job advising the newspaper and its young journalists.
Neil Alan Ralston
Vice President, Campus Chapter Affairs