Toxic Mold & Alleged Student Press Censorship at Fairmont State University

A set of stories about mold has spurred a fresh round of alleged student press censorship. The related administrative actions are so blatant and boorish one student editor has referred to them as “insanely unintelligent.”

Here’s the gist: The Columns campus newspaper at West Virginia’s Fairmont State University upped its aggressive reporting this past school year. Among the issues the paper subsequently brought to light was the presence of potentially toxic black mold in a few FSU buildings and residence halls. A follow-up story focused on a student with alleged health problems — including hives — stemming from the mold. Yowza.

In response to those reports and several others, in a series of moves Columns editors describe as retaliation, FSU officials cut some staff stipends, attempted to enact prior review, threatened the paper’s funding in general and purportedly sh*tcanned the Columns faculty adviser.

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As the Student Press Law Center confirms, FSU did not renew the contract of journalism professor and Columns adviser Michael Kelley. The school says it’s mainly a financial decision and that Kelley was never guaranteed employment past this school year.

In response, Kelley is calling BS and has filed a grievance against the school. Among the facts seemingly in his favor: the original job posting for his position noted an expected three-year stint; the search committee told him the same thing; and a professor in his department has also publicly stated it was meant to be a multi-year gig.

Not anymore, however, and all initial signs point to it being a punishment for good journalism instead of a sound personnel decision.

As Columns managing editor Tyler Wilson tells the SPLC, “Michael’s dismissal is kind of like the icing on the cake for just general hostility towards a free and open press on our campus this year. Really, anything that has the truth in it has been attempted to be muzzled and stifled by senior-level administration on campus.”

CMM Statement on Michael Kelley’s Dismissal

Hey Fairmont State University, eliminate the mold and stop the censorship. One is ruining your physical foundation and threatening people’s health. The other is ruining your intellectual reputation and muzzling the bedrock of any quality institution — the pursuit of truth.

If the truth behind your failure to reappoint Michael Kelley links to retaliation for your student newspaper’s quality reporting, that’s distressing. It’s also, as one of the paper’s editors declared, “insanely unintelligent.”

So, let’s review: Toxic mold and insane unintelligence. Sound like a school motto you want to embrace? I didn’t think so.

Instead, let’s get to work. To start, again, eliminate the mold and stop the censorship. A public apology would also be nice. Just saying.

(College Media Matters is a news site and digital think tank focused on the student press and journalism education. It proudly maintains a partnership with the Associated Collegiate Press, while remaining 100 percent editorially independent. In that spirit, this statement has been crafted independently by CMM founder and editor Dan Reimold. It is available for immediate use by all media outlets and organizations.)

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