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SPJ calls for reinstatement of Fairmont State University student newspaper adviser


June 23, 2015

Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President-Elect, 804-873-1893, pfletcher.spj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Society of Professional Journalists President Dana Neuts sent a letter Tuesday urging Fairmont State University President Maria C. Bennett Rose to immediately reinstate – without penalty – Michael Kelley as adviser of the university’s student newspaper.

Kelley’s contract was not renewed by the university after the student newspaper, The Columns, ran stories regarding potentially harmful mold in campus housing. The Columns staff, including its editor-in-chief and managing editor, have raised issues of attempts by university administrators to control the newspaper’s content, interfere with its operations and intimidate students. They assert that failure to renew Kelley’s contract was retaliation for publishing articles that reflect negatively on the university.

“So far, the university’s responses to allegations of censorship, violations of First Amendment rights, and bullying are inadequate and do not reflect a genuine commitment on the part of the university to independently investigate the treatment of journalists and journalism at Fairmont State,” Neuts said in the letter. “This is not a ‘contract matter’ to be adjudicated through faculty appeal channels. No one at the university has adequately explained why it was necessary to let Mr. Kelley – a well-credentialed journalism adviser -- go. There was a job opening, Mr. Kelley was able and willing to perform it, and he did so successfully for a year. To not renew his contract because The Columns wrote stories that university officials feel put Fairmont State in a negative light is despicable.”

SPJ joins the Student Press Law Center in contacting the university on Kelley’s and The Columns staff’s behalf.

Earlier this week, the Columbia Journalism Review ran an article about the removal of faculty advisers sparking concern about the independence of student publications. In so many communities, the student newspaper provides not only the campus community, but the community at-large, an important source of news and a place for up-and-coming journalists to hone their skills.

“As the CJR noted, for many college journalism programs, the adviser is the ‘heart and soul,’ serving as coach, recruiter, cheerleader, the institutional memory – and much more. Removing a good adviser who motivates and challenges students can interrupt the publication’s operations at best, and prevent a community from receiving crucial information at worst,” Neuts continued.

“Fairmont State is sending the message that student journalists and advisers must now fear punishment for publishing news of which the university does not approve, and that the First Amendment is only looked upon favorably when it benefits the university. No one is benefitting from the situation as it stands,” Neuts said.

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 spj.org.


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