January 15th, 2008 5:33 pm | by Lillian Hogan News | Posted In: Schools

The Latest Western Oregon University Media Flap: School Staff Accused of Free Speech Violations

Tags: media

“I'm writing to you out of desperation” was the subject line of an e-mail sent recently to WWire from Western Oregon Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerry Blakney.
The budding journalist at Western Oregon University's newspaper is desperate because he says school administrators are trampling on the paper's First Amendment rights.

Last week, Blakney says he discovered the student media's interim advisor Dr. Curtis Yehnert and the Vice President for Student Affairs Gary Dukes were making what he calls “secret changes” to the Student Media Board's bylaws in violation of those same bylaws.

Yehnert tells WWire that a Student Media Board (which is made up of students, staff and faculty) hasn't yet formed this school year. And Yehnert says that means the suggested changes couldn't have gone through the protocol of media bylaw amendments because there isn't a board.

But Blakney says the university's actions also present other problems because Dukes refused him a copy of the changed bylaws or a timeline of when they might go into effect.

“I didn't tell [Blakney] about the changes because they weren't finalized by the president,” Yehnert said.

The changes Yehnert suggested to Dukes recommend that the four students on the board shouldn't come from the student newspaper staff but from dean recommendations. He believes this is a good change because “it's supposed to be an oversight board.”

The other change suggests adding another faculty member to the board.

Blakney calls all the behind-the-scenes suggestions a violation of an independent press, writing in his email last Thursday that censorship is anti-education.

“I'm not sure why he's claiming censorship of the paper,” Yehnert told WWire. “Because it's not what we're doing, we're actually promoting a free press.”

But this isn't the first time Western Oregon Journal has dealt with censorship claims.
Last summer, the newspaper found confidential information unsecured on the university's network, including the Social Security numbers and test scores of over 80 Western Oregon students. The young journalists copied the evidence and reported the breach to the university. WOU employees then searched the newsroom. And the student media advisor, Susan Wickstrom, was terminated.

The student media entanglements with administration continued when Associate Provost David McDonald was accused of stealing copies of the student newspaper, which ultimately led to his public apology to the university.

And with the latest action, the unhappy saga continues ...

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