Campus Newspaper Files Lawsuit Against College, Says Officials ‘Intimidate & Harass Student Journalists’

A dozen current and former staffers of The Calumet at Iowa’s Muscatine Community College are suing school officials for a series of actions they claim are harassing and in retaliation for quality journalism.

1Among the charges laid out in the lawsuit, covered in more detail by Mark Keierleber for a Student Press Law Center report: 1) The removal of the paper’s longtime faculty adviser Jim Compton soon after an odd dispute between the paper and an MCC professor. 2) A sudden reduction in funding and other attempts “to marginalize the journalism program” at the school. 3) A general push by some administrators and faculty to, in the words of the staff’s legal counsel, “create a restraint on free speech and to essentially let the newspaper — without getting rid of it — allow it to die on the vine.”

One example of these restraint efforts: An MCC admin filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against the Calumet’s now-former adviser Jim Compton. Why? Because, gasp, the paper had the gall to report on the fact that the college’s student senate president had been named Student of the Month twice — in a contest in which the winning student’s uncle was a judge.

Then came the phone call.

This past December, the Calumet ran a story on grant funding. It included a snippet on a $38,000 grant acquired by MCC math and science department head Rick Boyer — and Boyer’s photo. Boyer apparently didn’t like having his image included with the piece. He called the newsroom to vent his displeasure.


Here’s a portion of a Calumet article about Boyer’s venting, wonderfully headlined “Calumet Receives Curt Call”:

“Calumet editor-in-chief Mary Mason answered the phone and attempted to explain the use of the photograph. She was hung up on during her explanation. According to Mason, she answered the phone, ‘Calumet?’ as usual. She says that, without asking whom he was speaking to, Boyer stated who he was and that he wanted to know why his picture was used in the newspaper. Mason then explained that it was used ‘in connection with an article that your name was in.’ Boyer then told Mason that she must obtain consent before she used his or anyone else’s picture. Mason says Boyer hung up on her while she was explaining. ‘I was angry. I felt insulted because he had spoken down to me and I didn’t deserve it. I was caught off guard because I was surprised that a faculty member would speak to a student that way.'”

The paper ran the “Curt Call” report in early February. A few days later, the school removed Compton as adviser. Hmm.

The College Media Association (CMA) has issued an open letter of concern about the alleged retaliation tactics in general and the removal of Compton specifically. According to CMA president Rachele Kanigel, “Students engage in student media to learn skills while making a difference on their campuses. In order to do that successfully, they need to have the support of the administration, rather than intimidation. All student media should be free from interference.”

1The Calumet suit is the second lawsuit filed recently within collegemediatopia.

North Wind faculty adviser Cheryl Reed and managing editor Michael Williams are suing Northern Michigan University to fight the former’s sudden termination and the latter’s rejection from the paper’s top editor job. As I’ve previously posted, the tensions between the paper and school have escalated dramatically in recent months.

According to Williams, “This case is not about money. We aren’t seeking any [financial] compensation. This is all about principles and rights that have been violated throughout the course of this academic year.”

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