Critics Call School’s Response to Student Editorial ‘Harassment or Even Intimidation’

Administrators at Grand Valley State University reacted to a recent editorial in The Lanthorn student newspaper through words and tactics Lanthorn’s editor and other critics say “calls into question the university’s commitment to free speech.”

In an unsigned editorial late last semester — published along with a related news report — the paper’s leadership criticized the rising number of campus facilities named for individual and organizational donors.  

1

As the piece, headlined “No More Billboards,” argues:

“At Grand Valley State University, it’s hard to be ignorant of the people and companies who ‘sponsor’ our education. The names are plastered everywhere. From the DTE Energy Innovation Zone to the Mary Idema Pew Library, you know exactly who is behind our learning efforts. It may not be accurate to describe the naming as a ‘sale,’ but what else do you call an exchange of money for a good or service? GVSU is selling out. And what precedent is the sale of our buildings setting? … What’s next? Will we turn Lake Huron 133 into the ‘Amway Lecture Hall?’ Will the backs of our chairs have plaques dedicated to the lower-level donors? We’re compromising the tradition of academic purity — the integrity of our educational efforts — for a quick buck.”

The GVSU pushback: No no no no no, do NOT go there. From the school’s perspective, like making fun of celebrities’ kids, “[w]hen it comes to being critical of the university, donors are off limits.”

2

According to Lanthorn editor-in-chief Lizzy Balboa, after the editorial appeared, three administrators contacted her by phone and email to register displeasure and what appears to be not-so-subtle intimidation. In Balboa’s words:

“[T]he administrators said the Lanthorn staff is clearly ‘ungrateful’ to donors as evidenced by its ‘disappointing’ editorial, and it did a ‘disservice to students’ with its disrespect. They suggested that, perhaps because of these offenses, my colleagues and I are undeserving of our merit-based scholarships and should relinquish them ‘for reissuance to students who would be more appreciative of our donors.’ The three administrators suggested further that the editors recant the message of the editorial and that, rather than challenging policy regarding donors, we write editorials thanking them.”

Hmm. Veiled threats to the students about the loss of scholarship money and the need to watch what they write. My take: No no no no no, do NOT go there

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) agrees, while also pointing out the irony of what they dub “the reprehensible actions of administrators.” As a FIRE report notes, the response displays “administrators’ willingness to sacrifice the ideals of open debate and critical thinking for the sake of appealing to donors — which was precisely what the Lanthorn staff was worried about [in their editorial] in the first place!”

In a letter to the editor, a GVSU senior similarly contends school officials’ actions “could rightly be construed as harassment or even intimidation.” As the student writes:

It is mind-blowing to me that a high-level administrator would take it upon himself to call a student’s personal cell phone number (instead of her official number, listed clearly and prominently on the Lanthorn’s site) and proceed to make the remarks he is alleged to have made. … The administrators involved should consider themselves morally and professionally obligated to issue a public apology to Ms. Balboa in particular, to the Grand Valley journalistic community, and to the Grand Valley student body at large.”

GVSU is not apologizing, saying instead it is well within its rights to disagree with the paper. As a university statement obtained by MLive shares, “This is about one thing only — a Lanthorn editorial with which we hold a differing view. … [The school] fully supports the right of the Lanthorn to express any and all viewpoints, just as we support the right of those with a difference of opinion to express it.”

Comments are closed.