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October 3rd, 2007 WW Editorial Staff | Rogue of the Week
 

Western Oregon University

A lesson in overreaction.

     
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A journalist discovers a security breach. Rather than remedying its own negligence, the government cracks down on the messenger. Agents raid the newsroom and bring flimsy court charges against the reporter. Then the verdict comes down: All the journalist must do? Confess how wrong he was.

It’s positively Soviet. And it’s apparently the governance style favored at Western Oregon University , where administrators’ overreaction to an exposé in the student newspaper is the collegiate equivalent of an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn story and undoubtedly Roguish .

In June, 29-year-old senior Blair Loving had just started work at the Western Oregon Journal when he came across a computer file on a server accessible to some students. The file contained the personal information, including Social Security numbers, of about 100 college applicants. He told his boss, the student editor, who told the paper’s paid adviser, Susan Wickstrom (a former WW employee and contributor). After university officials were informed, they had campus cops unlock the newsroom for a search.

Wickstrom was canned in August, two months after the Journal printed a story about Loving’s discovery. Loving’s punishment, as reported in The Oregonian , includes writing a Journal article about the importance of following the rules.

That smacks of coercion. And it could run afoul of a new state law making students—not disciplinary boards—solely responsible for the content of campus newspapers.

WOU says Loving violated the school’s computer policy by copying the sensitive files. The policy says, among other things, “material whose privacy must be guaranteed should not be stored on shared computers.”

“We found a flaw in our control system, and changed it,” says WOU vice president Mark Weiss. He wouldn’t say whether anyone working for the university was disciplined for the security breach.

“Clearly, it’s not” a case of blaming the messenger, Weiss insists. We disagree.

 
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