INDIANAPOLIS – John Ensslin, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, expressed concern about the possible removal of Dave Copeland, student media adviser for The Comment at Bridgewater State University.
The letter (included below) sent to Dana Mohler-Faria, president of the university, addresses reports that Copeland might be removed following the controversy over a student editor’s decision to print the name of a sexual assault victim who spoke publicly on campus.
Ensslin acknowledges that although the student journalists are learning the hard way about consequences, actions to remove their adviser would teach them a terrible lesson: “that the cost of their free speech is an adviser’s job.”
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
May 2, 2012
Dear Mr. Mohler-Faria,
My name is John Ensslin. I am the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and most broad-based journalism organization in the country.
I am writing to express our concern over the possible removal of Dave Copeland, the student media adviser for The Comment, following the controversy over a student editor's decision to print the name of a sexual assault victim who had delivered a public talk on campus.
While I would not have made the same decision the student made, I'm mindful that these are student journalists who are learning the hard way about the consequences of the choices they make.
However, the students in question do have a First Amendment right to make those decisions and to report and publish stories they consider newsworthy. The law in this area is fairly well established.
We appreciate that while expressing your concerns over the story, you have not ordered the students to remove the story from the paper's website, nor have you tried to curtail the paper's operation. But we are alarmed to read reports that in response to the students’ exercise of their editorial freedom, you are considering disqualifying Mr. Copeland from continuing to serve as their adviser.
If such an action were taken, then it would become a First Amendment issue. That would be ill advised on a legal basis and a terrible lesson to teach students: that the cost of their free speech is an adviser's job.
SPJ will continue to monitor this situation. Our members stand ready to assist if you feel it would be useful to hold a campus-wide discussion of the ethical decision-making process in this incident. It's my view that in every controversy, there is a potential learning experience.
Please feel free to contact me. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
John C. Ensslin President The Society of Professional Journalists