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SPJ to examine Southern Utah University’s student newspaper policies


Robert Leger, SPJ President, 417/836-1113 or 417/425-9140 or rleger@spj.org

James Highland, SPJ Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs, 270/745-5837 or jhighland@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- A Society of Professional Journalists task force was appointed Thursday to look into apparent attempts by administrators at Southern Utah University to control the content of the student paper.

SPJ President Robert Leger appointed former SPJ board member Jay Evensen, editorial page editor of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City; Charles Zobell, managing editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal; and Ted Pease, head of the Department of Journalism and Communication at Utah State University. SPJ’s vice president for campus chapter affairs, Jim Highland, will serve ex officio.

The task force will conduct a fact-finding mission and issue recommendations. It will look at how the student paper is operated, suggest ways an advisory committee that includes working journalists could help it improve and offer guidelines to maintain student editors’ independence.

“SUU’s administration is mistaken to think it can produce quality journalists while at the same time teaching them that the only truth that will be tolerated is the kind that has been filtered and sanctioned by a governmental authority. Quite simply, that is anti-American,” Evensen said. “The issue here isn't necessarily what the student newspaper chooses to publish, it is that university leaders must acknowledge that the First Amendment is as valid on campus as it is off.”

The issue at Southern Utah University began last month when the student newspaper, the University Journal, published a story about the limited availability of condoms on campus. An editorial suggested administrators were trying to push a conservative pro-abstinence agenda.

University President Steven D. Bennion and board of trustees member Dane Leavitt complained to the paper’s adviser, Paul Husselbee, calling the story and photo unbalanced. (Husselbee serves on SPJ’s national board of directors.)

Since then, both have asserted the university has a right and responsibility to monitor the paper and its content.

Bennion referred the matter to the University Journal Steering Council, a body that had not met since 1996 and which includes no journalists. The council is rewriting its bylaws, which must be approved by the Faculty Senate, Dean’s Council, President’s Council and Board of Trustees.

“The university, in how it goes from here, will decide whether it wants to teach students the value of the First Amendment and a vibrant press, or if it would rather subordinate free expression to its public relations imperatives,” said Leger, editorial page editor at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.

A steering council, especially if it includes working journalists, can serve an important function by choosing the paper’s editor and providing advice, Leger said. “But the decisions of what goes in the student paper should be left to students. It is the best way for them to learn, and it is a valuable way that students can hold an administration accountable,” he added.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, 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.


Julie Grimes, Deputy Director, Society of Professional Journalists
3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208-4045 * 317/927-8000 ext. 216, jgrimes@spj.org

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