The St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is troubled by reports concerning the University News, the student newspaper at Saint Louis University. The chapter believes a proposed change to the newspaper’s charter will stifle the publication’s editorial independence and freedom of expression on campus.
The university administration’s proposal also violates the existing charter, which gives the newspaper staff the right to reject any changes to the charter, according to the newspaper’s acting adviser and SLU Professor Avis Meyer.
The chapter is asking the university’s board of trustees not to approve this proposal. We urge the university administration to work with the newspaper staff to resolve any dispute in open and transparent dialogue.
In news reports, the university says these measures are designed to improve the publication’s quality. But the existing charter appears more than adequate to deal with any possible problems. Oversight already is provided by a university-appointed advisory board.
If quality is indeed the issue, expanded training opportunities, a larger editing staff and pay for hard-working student journalists would do far more good than a proposal that greatly weakens the independence of a 86-year-old publication.
The university also reduced the stipend for the editor position. Reducing financial support for such a critical position isn’t consistent with building quality journalism.
More troubling is a proposed two-step approval process for the newspaper’s editor. Currently, the editor is selected by the newspaper’s outgoing editorial board. Under the proposal, the university-appointed advisory board would select a candidate, but even that choice must be approved by the vice president of Student Development.
The proposal’s sudden announcement during the last week of classes and the lack of discussion with the newspaper staff raise questions about the university’s motives.
A student newspaper is not an instrument that belongs solely to the university. The newspaper is a public forum where students can freely express themselves and exchange ideas about their community and the world. It should reflect the academic and intellectual freedom found in an internationally renowned institution of higher education.
Rather than trampling on students’ First Amendment rights, the St. Louis Chapter invites St. Louis University to adopt SPJ’s Campus Media Statement, which states that campus publications “are designated public forums and free from censorship and advance approval of content.”
The Board of Directors
St. Louis Chapter of SPJ