I have been following the great debate taking place on many college campuses, including Wesleyan University in Middletown, on college student newspapers and their freedom to publish editorials and other controversial opinions without fear of retaliation. As you would anticipate, some of the opinions expressed by the aspiring student journalists are controversial and make many campus constituents feel uneasy. The reaction from college administrators, educators, fellow students and alumni has ranged from condemnation to eliminating financial support from the student government to assigning a senior college administrator to oversee all newspaper content.
Student newspapers have a long and important function on the college campus. In addition to providing a valuable campus and community news source, participation in the development of the campus paper promotes research, critical thinking and analytical skills, ethics and personal development. Some of the best student newspapers, The Cornell Daily Sun, The Daily Collegian at Penn State University and The Columbia Daily Spectator at Columbia University, have produced some of the nation’s best journalists. The Cornell Daily Sun counts nine Pulitzer Prize recipients, alumni from the Penn State Collegian include journalists at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today and The Columbia Daily Spectator includes a Pulitzer Prize recipient and journalists at the Washington Post, Newsweek and ABC News.
There are common characteristics of the aforementioned successful student newspapers: They are independent of the college; they are student managed; aside from a few full-time production and business positions, the newspapers are entirely staffed by students; advertising from national and regional business and industry and local merchants are the primary sources of revenue; other than paid advertising space, the student newspaper is not subsidized by the college or from student fees; and for the most part, student newspapers rent or lease space away from campus.
I have been associated with student newspapers throughout my college career. I cringe when administrators and others attempt to limit the freedom of the press. I think the college does more harm than good with these actions. Rather than restrict controversial opinions and writings, it would be wise for more colleges to implement an independent student newspaper model (as referenced above) that encourages freedom of the press and creates a separation of the student newspaper from the college.
Dr. Michael Gargano, Jr. is the former provost and senior vice president for academic and student affairs for the Connecticut State College and University System. He also served in a variety of administrative posts at the University of Texas Health Science Center and in the Louisiana State University System. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.