FAU vs. University Press: “An Increasingly Tense Feud”

As I predicted in a recent post, the FAU-UP imbroglio is heating up and turning nastyAdministrators are beginning to bandy about threats and coming awfully close to straight-up censorship- earning rebukes from national press groups.  The new director of student media is facing a public scolding from the very j-students she is supposed to be overseeing.  And the beloved former-part-time-adviser-turned-permanent-guest-speaker continues to assist the newspaper, much to school officials’ chagrin.

For those out of the loop, a student media reorganization at Florida Atlantic University recently led to the almost-immediate, hardly-a-word-of-warning termination of Michael Koretzky, the longtime adviser for The University Press student newspaper.  In his stead, FAU administrators hired an individual responsible for the oversight of all three student media outlets- University Press and the campus radio and TV station.

UP student staffers were not pleased, feeling the staff shift was a reaction to the pub’s hard-charging reporting and part of a larger effort to regulate content.  They asked Koretzky to stick around as a “permanent guest speaker.”  Koretzky concurred, telling them, “I’ll continue to help you publish the cutting edge journalism that has won this paper awards and its staff jobs. I just won’t get paid for it.”

At first, FAU said OK, just fill out some paperwork each time he stops by.  Then suddenly, a summer flip flop.  The new student media director, Marti Harvey, is now telling Karla Bowsher, University Press editor in chief, that all individuals who help with the paper must be university employees. It is an abrupt policy change undoubtedly influenced by the current “increasingly tense feud” between the uni and the UP.


And so Bowsher apparently cannot meet with Koretzky for advising sessions on or off campus . . . or else? Palm Beach Post: “Harvey told Bowsher that FAU’s legal department wanted her to remind Bowsher that she is an employee of the university and therefore subject to university policies.”  It is unclear what the consequences of meeting with Koretzky or allowing him to participate in news production might be for Bowsher.  Will she be fired from her EIC position? Suspended from school?  Banned from Boca Raton?

Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein’s one-word response: “Bullsh*t.” :-)  As he continued in his fantastically subtle manner, “That’s a flat-out freedom of association violation. [Koretzky’s] not a leader of a terrorist cell. You can’t just say, ‘You can’t talk to people.'”

The Society of Professional Journalists agrees, noting in an open letter to FAU’s president: “While Mr. Koretzky’s continued involvement may be awkward for administrators and the newspaper’s official adviser, we do not believe the university has any right to threaten Ms. Bowsher or any other FAU student simply for seeking Mr. Koretzky’s counsel and choosing to list him as a volunteer adviser.”

The even more awkward side issue in play is an investigation led by Bowsher into Harvey’s professional experience.  It has revealed a potential discrepancy about Harvey’s past stint at the Dallas Morning NewsPalm Beach Post: “Her biography on FAU’s website boasts that she was a reporter for the award-winning sports department at the Dallas Morning News, but the newspaper never published any stories with her byline, and her job duties were more like those of a news clerk.”

Bowsher: “She constantly name drops her time at the Dallas Morning News, which is by far her biggest claim to journalism experience.  And now we find out she was basically a glorified coffee server.”  (Read Bowsher’s wonderfully thorough review of all this craziness on her personal blog.)

My take: FAU administrators are simply reaping what they have sewn. Nothing’s wrong with a student media reorganization that benefits the campus press. But the unexpectedness and abruptness of the curb-kick they gave an obviously beloved adviser displays an incredible tone-deafness about these sorts of dramatic moves. At the very least, school officials should have met with Koretzky, given him ample advance notice, and worked with him to design the best plan of attack for a peaceful transition.   The man has advised the paper in good faith for 12 years, for goodness sakes.  He must know it better than anyone.  How could you not consult him about its future?

The school’s larger error: Treating its j-students like second class citizens. Like Koretzky, UP staffers should have been informed a change was a’coming.   They should have been involved in the hiring process and had a voice in the larger planned restructuring that is obviously now in motion.

Instead, school officials went with silence, a quick fire-hire scheme, and a PR bungling that is becoming more cringe-inducing by the day. Why is it so bad?  Because UP staffers are student journalists, not school lackeys.  They are not on board with this plan or how it’s been handled, and they are saying so and doing whatever they can to fix it.  They are fighting for control, rightfully asserting they know what’s best for the paper and continuing to push for the best advice they can get prior to putting each issue to bed.

My one-word response: Bravo.

Comments
5 Responses to “FAU vs. University Press: “An Increasingly Tense Feud””
  1. Good wrapup of what’s going on, Dan.

    After reading about one story a week like this, where student-journalists are supressed by either the administration, law enforcement, etc.; I find it disheartening that SO many times, the kids just throw their hands up in the air and say something along the lines of “What’ll we do now?!?!”

    Seriously. Get a lawyer. Don’t have one? Take an hour out of your day and walk into a firm. This is a no-brainer, especially in cases like this. I know they say college kids are poor, but c’mon, anyone should be able to afford an initial legal consultation and a letter backed by an attorney, especially a news organization.

    This is also just another example of why I advocate for editorial, financial, and legal independence for all campus newspapers. See my post on CollegeNewsroom.org entitled “How Independent Is Independent?”

    Sorry for any typos. Using an iPhone to write this comment.

    Michael Westendorf
    Partner
    Sterling, Hoffman & Co.

  2. Koretzky says:

    Dan:

    The first time your blog hit my radar screen, I was enthralled with the fascinating series of posts about student media in Iraq that you wrote earlier this year.

    Now it’s weird to see my twisted situation covered with the same depth and analysis you applied to Iraq. Of course, anyone who’s worked at FAU will recognize the similarities between the two places.

    Keep up the good work.


    Michael Koretzky
    volunteer adviser, FAU

  3. Jason says:

    Dan,

    Your summary of the events is good, save for one inaccuracy:

    “In his stead, FAU administrators hired an individual responsible for the oversight of all three student media outlets- University Press and the campus radio and TV station.”

    “Instead, school officials went with silence, a quick fire-hire scheme …”

    In FAU’s ideal world, that’s what would have happened – a painless and swift fire/hire scenario. That’s not what happened.

    That person replacing Koretzky hasn’t been hired yet.

    They posted the job June 4 – two weeks after his firing – and at last word, are still vetting applications.

    Marti Harvey was hired five months prior to Koretzky’s firing, and she is considered the Student Media Director and interim adviser. She’s not the replacement.

    That’s one of the most disturbing things about this brouhaha, because FAU’s left those student journalists rudderless. It’s one of the reasons Koretzky returned as a volunteer.

  4. Dan says:

    Michael- Thank you, truly. All my best in continuing the fight. Jason, this is very intriguing to me. Definitely a fact I overlooked or misunderstood. With this clarification, I admit a part of me feels sorry for Ms. Harvey. What a craptacular mess to wade into for nothing more than a temporary gig. (Of course it does not excuse the resume, ahem, boost she gave herself. That’s a grave she dug on her own.) It also makes me doubly curious as to why Michael was not allowed to keep working with the paper as the paid adviser- if nothing else until a full-time person was hired. But I suppose common sense or sound judgment were not buzzwords involved in FAU’s decision-making here. Please keep me updated on new developments. – D

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