SPJ supports Fairfield University student newspaper over controversial column
For immediate release:
Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism association, is defending embattled Fairfield University student newspaper The Mirror. On Friday, Nov. 13, SPJ sent a letter to Fairfield President Jeffrey von Arx and Dean of Students Thomas Pellegrino encouraging them to consider the implications of a sexual harassment and university ethics investigation against the newspaper. A copy of the letter follows.
Students and community members have objected to a controversial and satirical opinion column, and penal action against the newspaper is pending. The newspaper has since admitted that in retrospect it should not have run the controversial column in its original form, and the columnist later issued an apology. Click here to read the apology.
SPJ strongly cautions Fairfield not to set a precedent of responding to unpopular opinions by asserting heavy-handed administrative control. In the letter, SPJ offered to help by setting up meetings between the paper and the university community to discuss the role and responsibility of student media.
Click here for news coverage of the controversy.
Click here to read the column, letters to the editor and The Mirror’s editorials.
Following is the text of the letter:
Dear President von Arx and Dean Pellegrino,
The Society of Professional Journalists is concerned with the unfolding events at Fairfield University involving the student newspaper, The Mirror. Most recently, news of potential ethics violations and sexual harassment claims stemming from the controversial “He Said” column has garnered wider attention. We urge Fairfield University to refrain from penal action or other sanctions against the newspaper as a result of these claims.
We realize that Fairfield is a private university, and that such institutions have wide control over student organizations and campus activities. However, as a respected institution of higher education cognizant of the value of education and debate, you should also recognize the need to protect and foster free speech. Punishing and drastically reordering an entire newspaper in the aftermath of an unpopular opinion does not send a healthy message about the value Fairfield places on learning.
Further, punishing an individual editor, adviser or columnist, whether in this situation or in the future, sends a similarly unfortunate message about how you treat freedom of speech, expression and the press.
Heavy-handed actions by Fairfield against The Mirror will make way for a dangerous trend to continue – that unpopular and perhaps misunderstood opinions can be silenced by administrative control. The silencing of free speech this produces would be deafening.
Rather than reacting by punishing The Mirror, we encourage the university community to learn and grow from this incident. What kinds of issues do students want addressed in the newspaper? What are the ethical obligations of a student newspaper? How can a media outlet such as a newspaper act as a public forum and foster positive debate and conversation? These are discussions we encourage the Fairfield community to have in the future.
Fortunately, the Society is comprised of thousands of individuals, many of whom belong to local chapters throughout the country. There is no student chapter at Fairfield, but there is a professional group in the area, the Connecticut Pro Chapter. If you would like to have more in-depth conversations about the role of news organizations on campus, we encourage you to involve the chapter. The chapter president is Cindy Simoneau. You may reach her at 203-400-0454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Z. Smith
SPJ Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs
SPJ Region 1 Director
SPJ Connecticut Chapter President
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.