Christopher Newport University’s ‘Green Initiative’ May Kill Student Newspaper’s Print Edition

Update: The staff fought back.  Press attention ensued.  The university caved.  CNU statement… “The allegations regarding the motives of the CNU administration to eliminate funding to support the print version of The Captain’s Log are without merit and seek only to cause harm and impugn the reputation of CNU.  The discussion with The Captain’s Log to embrace 21st-century technology, consistent with the CNU ‘Go Green’ initiative, has been misunderstood and misconstrued as an attack on 1st Amendment rights.  Therefore, there will be no further discussion about discontinuing print funding and The Captain’s Log will have the funding to continue its print edition.”

The Captain’s Log is currently fighting for its ink-stained life.  The student newspaper at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University is in danger of losing the financial support needed to publish a print edition.

Beginning in fall 2012, the paper may be forced to exist online-only due to a “green initiative” CNU has apparently decided to launch campus-wide.

However, the newspaper’s adviser and editors are not buying the supposedly idealistic environmental plan.  Instead, they argue administrators’ print-stoppage attempt is nothing less than indirect censorship spurred by their growing anger over the paper’s content.

Longtime Captain’s Log adviser and CNU prof. Terry Lee said the paper is being punished “for not sticking with the lighter, features reporting that the school is used to seeing.”

As he confirmed in an open letter late last month, “In a meeting with the provost [in February], I was told that news stories in the student newspaper were having a negative impact on faculty searches because prospective faculty pick up the newspaper, see stories critical of the administration and president and raise questions about the university. The provost told me that the administration believes that the newspaper is not ethical, that the editors are ‘scandal mongers.'”

For a Student Press Law Center report on the situation published Monday, a university spokeswoman stammered out such a tepid statement of support for the newspaper and freedom of the press you can practically hear her hissing as she typed it.

In an email to SPLC staff writer Seth Zweifler, the school official wrote that “the administration ‘neither likes nor dislikes the student newspaper.  The administration recognizes that the student newspaper has a right to publish what it sees fit, even if those stories contain inaccuracies, fall short of standard journalistic practices or are offensive to large segments of the university community.'”

The two-word response I literally muttered out loud upon reading the statement, while laughing and sighing at the same time: DEAR LORD.  (That absolutely goes in the subtle-ways-to-say-FU hall of fame.)

Below is the full text of Lee’s open letter about the ongoing saga:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Terry Lee
Date: Tue, May 31, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Subject: Freedom of the Press on Campus
To: [Names and Email Addresses Withheld]

May 31, 2011

To: CNU Student Media Board; Dr. Scott Pollard, Faculty Senate President; Concerned Students and Faculty

From: Terry Lee, Student Media Board member and newspaper Faculty Adviser

Subject: University Initiatives to Defund Currents, The Limelight and The Captain’s Log newsprint, and to convert the Student Media Board to a Student Club

I’m writing to apprise you of recent developments concerning the status of the Student Media Board (SMB) and media outlets on campus, developments that will inhibit the independence and dissemination of the student newspaper and effectively “dissolve” the Student Media Board by stripping it of its budgetary oversight role. This measure would effectively inhibit the SMB freedom-of-the-press firewall between the university administration and student government groups, and the student media. Following this introduction is a brief timeline and synopsis of meetings and outcomes. I am asking SMB Chair Matt Davenport to call a meeting of the SMB in the near future to address this trend toward enervating the free press at CNU.

As a member of the SMB, as well as faculty adviser to the student newspaper for seventeen years, I am concerned that recent actions may, intentionally or unintentionally, constitute a pattern that will erode the independence of student media at CNU. The pattern is developing on two fronts: a so-called “green initiative” whereby the university will no longer allow the use of Student Activity Funds (SAF) to pay for the printing of the newspaper; a demand to convert the SMB to a student club to maintain its vital Front-End budgeting status—this from the newly formed student Front-End Budgeting (FEB) Student Activities Fee Appropriation Committee, ostensibly headed by Michelle Reed. At the same time, Provost Mark Padilla has initiated action to move the journalism curriculum from the English Department to Communication Studies, a move that wouldn’t directly inhibit freedom of the press on campus, but that could potentially disrupt continuity in journalism studies, as well as the role of the current newspaper faculty adviser.

The pattern began Feb. 23, 2011. In a meeting with the provost, I was told that news stories in the student newspaper were having a negative impact on faculty searches because prospective faculty pick up the newspaper, see stories critical of the administration and president and raise questions about the university. The provost told me that the administration believes that the newspaper is not ethical, that the editors are “scandal mongers.” He said that the administration has been “connecting the dots” in the newspaper’s coverage in the last year and found the newspaper to be distasteful. He told me that the president isn’t happy with the newspaper and that the president would be talking to me about it. To date, I have heard nothing from the president.

In dealings with the Dean of Students, we have apparently been misled twice:

• We were told, in writing . . . that a student committee (FEB Student Activities Fee Appropriation Committee) refused to allocate funds for the printed edition of the newspaper so as to help further “the University’s goal of becoming a ‘green campus.’” A student member of that committee, who is also the Student Assembly president, Jett Johnson, wrote in email that the student committee “did not discuss this issue [defunding newsprint] in any form” (see his email below) that, in fact, he is personally against defunding the newsprint edition.

• The attached letter outlining the student committee’s decisions to defund Currents and The Limelight (those decisions apparently did come from the student committee) as well as defund newsprint, is signed in typescript, but without a personal signature, by Michelle Reed, who works in the office of Student Activities. Ms. Reed has said that not only did she not write the letter, but she had never seen it. She asked for a copy.


Terry Lee

Associate Professor of English

Director, Journalism Program

Below is a synopsis of events that have occurred since my Feb. 23 meeting with the provost:

• April 22

Emily Cole, Victoria Shirley and I met with Dean Hughes and Provost Padilla, who wanted students to explain how the newspaper operated. At the end of the meeting, I asked why the dean called this meeting. He said that he wanted to help the newspaper by finding out what could be done to invest more in technology, i.e., for a green-campus initiative in which the newsprint edition would not be published. Emily Cole, the incoming editor, said she was committed to preserving the newsprint edition.

• May 6

I was summoned again to meet with the provost. Dean Steven Breese also attended. I was asked how I would feel about moving the journalism curriculum into Communication Studies—out of English, out of my control. In short, I said I would cooperate with this, though I clearly would not have initiated such a move. When I asked if the provost had discussed this move with anyone else, he said that he had just discussed it with Linda Baughman, Communication Studies chair, who was very enthusiastic about taking on journalism. My course one course release per academic year, which the newspaper budget funds, would be stripped.

• May 8

I emailed Linda Baughman, saying that I would cooperate and that we should meet.

• May 11

I met with Dean Hughes, Student Assembly President and FEB Student Activities Fee Appropriation Committee member Jett Johnson, SMB Chair Matt Davenport, out-going newspaper editor Victoria Shirley and incoming editor Emily Cole. We were given a letter (attached), ostensibly written by Michelle Reed, which demanded that the SMB convert to a club status or be “dissolved, from a budgetary stand point, and have no funding authority moving forward;” that the newspaper must submit a revised budget in which funds allocated for newsprint would be reallocated for technology purchases because the student committee wanted the newspaper to go green. The letter also defunded Currents and The Limelight, and reduced funding for WCNU—all with no consultation whatsoever with the SMB.  In this meeting, I tried to find a compromise between the student journalists, who were upset that newsprint funding was stripped, and the administration, which, as I suggested in the meeting, wanted to be able to get public relations value by claiming that the newspaper was “going green.” (I later reversed my decision on compromise: see: May 17, below.)

• May 11

Email from Jett Johnson to Victoria Shirley and Emily Cole in which Johnson makes it clear that the “going green” initiative did not come from the student FEB committee. Here is the email:

From: Jett Johnson

Date: Wed, May 11, 2011 at 5:04 PM
Subject: Follow-Up Regarding FEB Meeting – Please Read
To: [Two Captain’s Log editors]

[Addressed to editors],

Thank you for taking the time to attend today’s meeting. I just wanted to follow up with the two of you with a comment.  I do, of course, stand by the decisions of the FEB Allocations Committee, however, I cannot say that I, or the committee, support the “Going Green” initiative. I wanted to make it said that the FEB Allocations Committee did not discuss this issue in any form, so it was completely out of our hands. In fact, I personally do not agree with this initiative, pertaining to your organization, and I feel as though that it is something that the Student Assembly could back the CLOG on in the future if you do pursue action against the “Going Green” idea. The concept of placing “students first” should trump this, as do to the fact that rearranging funds is seemingly a simple PR stunt; so, this process should in no way impede student organizations in negative ways. Obviously I do not know what your future actions will be and I am sure it will be a while before you do as well, however I just wanted to extend the fact that the Student Assembly is here to support the best interests of the student and, to me, this does not seem to be in our best interests.

Thank you for taking the time for my thoughts,

Jett Johnson
CNU Student Assembly, President

• May 13

Email from Linda Baughman to her department and me. She writes that Comm Studies doesn’t want to hire a specialist in journalism—they don’t have one now, either—because it would be “a waste of effort and resources” and because the “field [could] be ‘dead’ in 7-10 years.” The idea developed to create an interdisciplinary journalism minor.

• May 17

I emailed Dean Hughes saying that the compromises I thought I could propose now seemed to me impossible because of the blatant disregard for the freedom of the press that the Student Media Board was formed in 2007 to ensure. In the email, I said that I refused to accept the conversion of the SMB to a student club and asked that the FEB demands and decisions be retracted and forwarded to the SMB for a thoughtful and timely decision. I wrote to him privately, asking for a meeting to discuss my renewed concerns. Dean Hughes responded in a May 24 email, apologizing for not getting back to me and saying he would in 24-48 hours. As of this writing, he has not.

• May 26

I met with Matt Davenport, SMB chair, Emily Cole, newspaper editor and Rachel Carter, newspaper business manager to discuss their concerns about the budget and student FEB committee demands. They were relieved when I reported that I had written Dean Hughes, refusing to accept his / FEB’s demands. We learned that Michelle Reed, who works in the Student Activities office and leads the student FEB Student Activities Fee Appropriation Committee, had not written the letter reporting the student committee’s demands (see attached letter) and had never seen it. She asked for a copy.

5 Responses to “Christopher Newport University’s ‘Green Initiative’ May Kill Student Newspaper’s Print Edition”
  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Victoria says:

    Loved that you heard the spokesman hissing while she wrote that…I heard it when I read her comment as well! Thanks for posting this!

  3. Erin Roll says:

    Thanks very much for keeping this issue in the spotlight. I worked on the Captain’s Log for all four years of my time at CNU. The paper is a wonderful training ground for aspiring journalists, and it does a great service to the students, faculty and school

  4. anonymous says:

    If the articles in the Captain’s Log are turning faculty away then it’s definitely for the best! Anyone who would want to censor student’s right to speech and opinion doesn’t belong on a college campus! This should just be step one in the interview process…

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