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Clark College’s Campus Newspaper Independent in Name Only

September 21, 2009

How much say should student journalists have in selecting who will join them on staff or serve as their replacements?  It is a question at the heart of a battle currently being waged within The Independent, the student newspaper at Clark College in Washington state. According to the Student Press Law Center, a new policy put into place at the paper this year restricted staff hiring decisions to the faculty adviser and editor in chief.  Recently, the EIC had two other student editors attend an interview session in her place, without the adviser’s knowledge.

All three student editors have now been placed on disciplinary probation for “failure to follow instructions” and are waging a fight with outside legal help. It is a sad day when a newspaper called Independent can exist as such in name only. A lawyer representing the EIC: “I think that Clark has missed a wonderful teaching moment, and made a colossal mistake, by punishing students for trying to help run a newspaper that they were appointed to manage.”

I agree completely. Academia is awash in peer review. It is the protocol followed for journal submissions and conference presentations. It is the standard applied to tenure-track faculty and most major administrative hires. The same respect should be shown to students. Clark is sending a dangerous mixed signal: The school is theoretically affording student journalists with the freedom to investigate every crevice of campus but not entrusting them to look after themselves. They are college students. They are journalists. They are not children.

The quote among quotes come SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte: “Besides being illegal, heavy-handed control of college student publications is widely recognized both as unethical and as an unsound educational practice that deprives students of valuable learning opportunities. The editors responsible for the Independent are all legally adults. They are old enough to drive cars, purchase firearms, sign contracts, get married, vote, serve on juries, and strap on rifles and die for their country. They are certainly old enough to decide which student would make the best layout editor.”

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