Freedom of the Press Challenged at Concordia
Student publication removed from racks for cover story
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 17:10
A recent controversy left Concordia College’s student-run newspaper the Concordian grappling with the school’s admissions office after an official removed copies of an issue from its racks due to the content of the front page story.
The featured article written by Concordia student Austin Gerth highlighted students’ use of alcohol before school-sponsored events, specifically dances. An unnamed individual from the private institution’s admissions office removed all copies of the issue from their campus center. Concordian News Editor and Politics Blog Editor Emma Connell attributed the action to the increased number of campus tours occurring that week.
“By taking the paper, the admissions office determined that it was more important for their office to be able to present a rose-colored view of Concordia than to allow the students to present the truth through a body of work they spent valuable time creating,” Connell stated in an editorial.
The confiscation was reported to the Student Press Law Center, making it the sixth recorded student newspaper theft this year. First Amendment rights and past court rulings have determined that a university’s ability to censor student publications is greatly limited, especially when students make up the editorial staff.
“Many classes offered at Concordia, both within the multimedia journalism major and beyond, describe freedom of the press as essential to a functioning body of people,” Connell wrote.
Concordia’s admissions office returned the newspaper copies shortly after the incident and has since apologized to the Concordian staff on behalf of the individual’s actions.
The newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Regan Whitney referred all news sources to Connell’s editorial. Whitney said that the matter has been settled and that she and her staff have taken the experience as a lesson learned.
NDSU Dean of Student Life Janna Stoskopf said she also views the situation as a learning opportunity for the student publications as well as the administration at Concordia and NDSU.
“I would hope that we could take [Concordia’s situation] as a learning experience for all of us to talk about the freedom of the press and the fact that we may not always like what’s in the newspaper, but that’s one of the freedoms that we enjoy in this country,” she said.
Jobey Lichtblau, Director of Admissions at NDSU, said that although he cannot speak for Concordia, he feels the actions taken by the unnamed individual were inappropriate.
“The paper is there for a reason and that is for the voice of students,” he said. “I think it looks worse for your prospective students and families if they would find out that [the confiscation] happened.”
Stoskopf recalled an incident in April of 2008 when unidentified individuals removed the vast majority of a Spectrum issue from its distribution points. The cover story listed the salaries of NDSU employees and according to Stoskopf, the article made “many individuals very, very uncomfortable.”
The theft of newspapers is a crime at both public and private institutions.
However, it is the duty of both Concordia and NDSU’s admissions offices to project a positive image in order to gain future students. Lichtblau and Stoskopf said that although they disagree with the employee’s actions, they understand the individual’s motivation to act as they did.
“I think it was maybe something that the individual didn’t completely think through, and it was maybe just a quick reaction,” Lichtblau said. “When you have visitors on campus, you certainly want campus to look the best way possible.”