Central New Mexico Faculty Call Student Newspaper Censorship a ‘Seamy Episode’ in School’s History

Roughly a month after officials at a New Mexico community college briefly shut down its student newspaper due to the publication of a sex issue, some faculty are still seeking an apology– and a promise it will not happen again.

A letter to the editor published in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education signed by nearly two dozen current and former professors refers to it as a “seamy episode” in the history of the school.

As they write, “The dust appears to be settling and expressions of anger have subsided, but many faculty members at Central New Mexico Community College are still troubled by the administration’s decision on March 26 to suspend operations of the student newspaper.  We are relieved that the president, Katharine Winograd, reinstated the paper less than 21 hours later, but we must point out that the college has not acknowledged that its initial decision was an arrogant assault on free-speech rights.

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As I previously posted, CNM admins suspended The CNM Chronicle in late March almost immediately after the paper premiered a special sex edition.  They also removed copies of the issue from newsracks across campus.  The issue included features on BDSM, abstinence, local classes on “sexual violence, G-spots or how to give a great blow job,” sex toys, and sexual identification.

Initially, CNM officials said they were censoring the issue and temporarily closing the paper because the sexually explicit content was “offensive and not appropriate for the educational mission of CNM.”  College president Winograd later explained they shut it down due to concerns about a 17-year-old quoted in one of the pieces– even though the Chronicle’s editor confirmed the quote was given with the full knowledge and permission of the source and her parents and the Student Press Law Center noted “there are no legal problems with including a minor.”  A day after the hubbub began, the paper was reinstated.

So was the quick reinstatement a sign of good faith, or just an attempt to save face amid a bad press wave?  The faculty letter signees argue the latter.

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As they confirm, “Some of us believe that the only reason the paper was reinstated was to avoid further embarrassment for the college.  President Winograd’s unwillingness to acknowledge that the college did anything wrong in the first place has only reinforced that conviction. Nor has anyone in the administration or on the Governing Board said anything to reaffirm the centrality of First Amendments rights to the mission and operations of the college.”

The letter writers subsequently ask some big questions: “What kind of message has been sent to the college’s students, faculty, and staff?  Had there been no public uproar, would the newspaper still be mothballed?  If the administration does not believe it erred, will it try again?  Will it seek quieter, less visible ways in which to prevent the CNM Chronicle from covering stories on, say, strained relations with faculty, which the administration would like to shield from public scrutiny?  And what kind of accountability, what level of responsibility, is the college demonstrating to the community?  Does the administration assume that employees and students will eventually forget about this seamy episode?

Related

Central New Mexico Community College Suspends Student Newspaper After Sex Issue

Central New Mexico Community College Reinstates Student Newspaper After Sex Issue Brouhaha

College Media Podcast: Sex, Censorship & Something Called Darktable

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