‘First Amendment, Dead’: North Wind Fights Faculty Adviser Ouster, Editor Rejection

A senior administrator at Northern Michigan University may have helped kick the school’s student newspaper adviser to the curb and stopped a top student staffer from becoming editor-in-chief in retaliation for the paper’s coverage and reporting methods over the past year.

In a new bombshell report, The North Wind says Steven Neiheisel, NMU’s vice president for enrollment and student services, orchestrated the recent vote by the paper’s Board of Directors to not renew North Wind adviser Cheryl Reed’s contract. According to the paper, he also unduly influenced the board’s decision to reject managing editor Michael Williams’ application to be the paper’s next editor-in-chief — even though he’s the current second-in-command and was the only candidate for the top spot.

As a student board member tells the North Wind about Neiheisel’s intentions: “[I]t was very clear, in my personal opinion, I am pretty sure it has been his plan to get Cheryl Reed fired.”

The paper’s take on this alleged retaliatory scheme is shared on its current front page, via three words plastered in all caps atop a mock-up of the U.S. Constitution: “FIRST AMENDMENT, DEAD.”

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1A separate image in the issue is even more explicit — a depiction of a North Wind board member urinating on the First Amendment’s grave. A portion of the editorial aligned with the cartoon: “What happened to Reed and Williams on April 3 demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of constitutional rights by certain members of The North Wind Board of Directors. … The administration wants to censor its students and is violating the founding law of the United States.”

As I previously posted, the paper has upped its journalistic A-game in recent months. Instead of crafting “cupcake stories,” the pub has been digging, exploring, asking tough questions and filing FOIA requests — at times rubbing NMUers the wrong way.

1The Society of Professional Journalists issued a public statement yesterday calling for Reed’s reinstatement, a reconsideration of Williams’ EIC candidacy and a change in how the North Wind board of directors operates.

SPJ National President Dana Neuts: “Boards that oversee student media must avoid any hint of censorship or pre-publication interference. Colleges and universities that are fortunate enough to have student newspapers should give advisers the freedom to teach students about good, ethical journalism without fear of retribution if something less than positive is published about the institution.”

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