Letter to the Editor: QU’s priorities should include supporting student press

By on April 23, 2008

Life is change. We can embrace it. We can ignore it to our detriment. Or we can question it in the hopes that we can alter its inevitable march.

When pondering the changes proposed by the Quinnipiac University administration for The Chronicle, I want to see the proposals as fruitful and courageous, but I see the changes more as an abdication of duty.

The University has proffered a seemingly rational plan to cut The Chronicle free of its institutional support. This way, The Chronicle can finance itself and join as a full-fledged member the venerable Fourth Estate, with all the obligations attendant the First Amendment.

The exact funding mechanism is a bit of a mystery, but the University is giving itself more than a year to confront the budgetary concerns and logistics of the divorce.

QU won’t send The Chronicle out into the big bad world by itself. If QU severs all fiduciary ties with the Chronicle, and then this 79-year-old student paper fails, the Bobcat will wear egg on its face.

This would generate stories in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and maybe even the New York Times. I’m sure President John Lahey likes this concept less than The Chronicle itself. So perhaps Lahey has a deep-pocketed donor ready to pony up for The Chronicle’s metamorphosis.

I’m willing to accept the proposed changes to The Chronicle, because if QU is successful, it can forge a new path in college journalism, and create a model that could place QU’s journalism school in the same breath as legendary j-schools like Stanford, Missouri, Syracuse or Columbia.

That The Chronicle could become a vibrant online and print student forum independent of Lahey or University Senate interference while simultaneously shielding the university from the cost of defending a libel case almost seem too good to be true.

We must ask: is this legal concern of immature reporters leading the school into court merely a fig leaf to justify the crippling of student expression that paints the university in a poor light? Back in the fall, editor Jason Braff attracted the attention of the New York Times because he dissented from the Lahey’s policy preventing live web reporting.

But isn’t the press supposed to be adversarial? Braff has run headlines critical of Lahey. My favorite is from Oct. 24, 2007: “Lahey: Student media hinders progress.”

I’m justified, then, in thinking that the administration comes to this student media solution with clean hands. I only need think of President Lahey’s toppling of the radio transmission tower in 2006 to don the skeptics hat.

Lahey’s priorities here seem skewed. He has maxed QU’s credit card to build NCAA Division I luxury items like basketball and hockey arenas that are arguably ancillary to education, but a potential $50,000 libel judgment from a Chronicle story is too much to bear?

Constitutionally, according to the state action doctrine, Quinnipiac University has no legal duty to follow the First Amendment. It is a private institution and the Bill of Rights does not apply on campus. So Lahey is right when he says this isn’t a First Amendment issue.

The rhetorical, philosophical question burns: What aside from concern over image prevents the university from treating The Chronicle as if the First Amendment applied to it?

It would seem a matter of academic integrity to say that yeah, we feel confident enough in our educational process and the caliber of students we accept into this school that we are willing to take a libel risk and provide students with a journalism experience that provides the best of real world, with the safety of the ivory tower.

In the article in the New Haven Register recently, QU administrators who formulated this new plan for The Chronicle said they looked at the daily student papers at Syracuse, Boston University, Columbia and the weekly at Montclair (NJ) State University.

But those schools selected by Quinnipiac’s Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell and her Chronicle work group of Dean of Students Manuel Carreiro and Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Kathleen McCourt inform a disingenuous research project. The work group not only excluded student representation in planning the future of the student newspaper, they compared apples and oranges.

Apples to apples might have been Connecticut College, Wesleyan or Trinity.

Instead, Bushnell and her gang looked at SU, BU and CU, which are all massive next to QU.

SU, BU and CU all are situated in urban economies that can support independent dailies. I should note that I graduated from Syracuse University in 1994, and I reported for the Daily Orange from its offices, a converted house on Comstock Avenue.

Montclair State U provides no more a valid comparison. Montclair is a suburban campus of 13,500 students in a smaller community than Syracuse, Boston or Manhattan. But Montclair is a state school where the First Amendment does apply to the weekly Montclarion, which is funded by the Student Government Associaton.

The conditions for a successful student-run daily (or weekly that QU proposes) of student participation and financial I do not see present here at QU or in Hamden. In fact, I can’t think of any weekly official campus paper nationwide that is independent.

Our economy can barely sustain the New York Times, as the Old Grey Lady revealed on April 15, 2008 that it will have to cut 100 reporters. Looking even closer to home, you can buy a copy of the New Haven Register for 75 cents, or you can buy three shares of its stock.

The Journal Register Company is struggling under the weight of debt, but moreso, the entire industry is reeling under the receding economy and the loss of revenues to online publishing. I’m a journalist by trade, and I entered law school because I saw little future in the newspaper business.

Maybe QU is doing the wannabe investigative journalists a favor by slowly, quietly killing the print product and forcing it online, where the future of the free press seems to be. But what kind of campus that has a journalism school doesn’t have a healthy, vigorous newspaper?

Working for newspapers taught me to be skeptical of those in power, whether that authority is a cop wielding a nightstick on the neighborhood beat or a university president attempting a major reorganization and attack on the student press. That skepticism inherent in journalism is vital to a democratic society, especially in these trying times.

As an institution that has chosen the duty of training journalists, Quinnipiac should think twice about this proposed change, and examine other options that involve the university continuing to subsidize the student press, particularly in light of the external economic pressures bearing down on the industry.

– Ken Krayeske

Ken is a 2L at QUSL.


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