At University of Portland, ‘Campus Ministry Forces Student Media Out’

The student newspaper and yearbook staffs at the University of Portland are being evicted from their offices in the school’s student center to make room for professional staff overseeing a campus religious group.  Portland administrators apparently decided upon the shift without consulting students serving on either publication.

In a news story, The Beacon, UP’s student newspaper, shared, “Next year Campus Ministry will relocate four staff members to the Beacon’s 1,100-square-foot office in St. Mary’s Student Center, forcing the Beacon’s 30 staff members into a 400-square-foot office currently occupied by The Log staff, who in turn will take over a 250-square-foot conference room. . . . Since all of the Beacon’s staff will not be able to fit into the room, the staff will conduct its twice-weekly all-staff meetings in the main part of St. Mary’s.”

A trusted source with knowledge of the move confirms to me, “The University of Portland’s administration is unilaterally evicting the paper from the office it has had for almost 30 years to make way for the offices of an administrative group.  The paper was not consulted on this at all.  The replacement the school offered is essentially a closet. The yearbook’s in the same boat.  Its staff is much smaller, and can barely fit in its current office as it is.  The consolation prize is an even smaller closet.”

In a separate editorial this past Friday, the Beacon contended, “Though Campus Ministry plays an important role on campus, what [administrators] are doing is wrong. This forced move will greatly affect the ability of student media to do its job.  It also shows a lack of respect for students.  We are not just an extracurricular activity. We provide a necessary and integral service to the University: We are the voice of students. Anything that hurts the ability of student media to be a student voice also hurts the entire student population.”

The UP administration’s prioritizing of professional staff over student media is especially troubling against the backdrop of a dramatic cut to the school’s on-campus student employment budget that will mean “fewer students working on campus, fewer hours of work for student workers or a combination of the two.”

My Take: Unilateral decisions are the antithesis of higher education.  UP administrators should have manned up and talked it out.  Share the plan with Beacon staffers and the student body at-large.  Explain the rationales fully and clearly.  Elicit student feedback.  And be prepared and even excited to receive a better idea or idea tweak that might lead you in a different direction.

I mean, come on, seriously, UP?  You’re moving one of the most prominent student groups on campus out of its longtime HQ without warning or much explanation, in favor of a much smaller, less prominent organization that wasn’t even requesting such a large space?  Inelegant is one word that comes to mind.  Cowardly is another. Weird is a third.

7 Responses to “At University of Portland, ‘Campus Ministry Forces Student Media Out’”
  1. Andrew Hansen says:

    I’m not sure “cowardly” is fair. Frustrations may be warranted here, but I wouldn’t deem this cowardly. Ultimately it’s the University’s property.

    As a 2010 graduate from UP, I do think there was a need for more Campus Ministry space. Prior to this decision, campus ministry was split between the administrative offices in the chapel itself (filled to capacity, mind you) and the student support offices in the Pilot House – a space that was barely a closet itself. A lot of student needs are met in that office, and providing more space will benefit the large number of student religious groups on the campus. Keep in mind we’re a Christian university. Providing people resources for spiritual development should be a priority.

    It does stink to see the Beacon evicted, however. I’m curious as to whether or not there are other options. For instance, the student government office is rather large for the few number of people in there at a given time. I’m sure there is other space on the campus for the Beacon to move to. It does make more sense for campus ministry to have that particular space given that it’s a building housing student activities, student government, and the service and leadership center. It’d be great if the KDUP space could be expanded to provide room for the Log and Beacon to create an entire center for student media. I hope UP will choose to explore further options.

    • Dan says:

      Andrew- Thanks so much. What I deem cowardly, at least given the facts currently presented, is making this decision behind closed doors and simply announcing it without discussion as already a done deal. Why not have debate? It’s the student center for goodness sakes! Shouldn’t students have a say in how space there is arranged, especially if it involves an office that has traditionally been allotted to a student group? Of course admins can do pretty much whatever they want in whatever manner they want with university property, but it doesn’t mean they should. Thanks again. :)

  2. LH says:

    I am very disappointed that this decision was made without input from the student body. It does not speak well of UP when they fail to locate an appropriate working space for an award-winning newspaper. Not just current staff and students read the Beacon online. The community at-large, prospective students, and alumni pay close attention to the university’s actions.

  3. Fellow (Non-UP) Student says:

    I am not a student at UP, but as a student at a small college myself with a high degree of student autonomy, I can say without equivocation that such unilateral action would warrant harsh student reaction. To my knowledge, Oregon does not have any legislative acts on the books like the Leonard Law in California that guarantees FULL First Amendment rights at private universities. If students are truly frustrated and feel that First Amendment privileges are being reduced as a result of the move (or that the decision was made to somehow diminish the voice of students on campus), I would recommend contacting FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) to have them take a look at the matter. Even if there is no legal recourse immediately apparent, having contacts with an organization like FIRE can prove invaluable for college students seeking to promote and protect individual rights on their respective campuses. I hope that The Beacon does not suffer in its abilities–as a well-established student media outlet–to maintain its high standards from your administration’s decision.

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