FIRE criticizes QPac letter to SPJ chapter

Quinnipiac University Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell may have spoken up two weeks ago about the student-journalism controversy that occurred on her campus. But a national group still wants more answers.

College student First Amendment rights watchdog group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter last week to Quinnipiac President John L. Lahey expressing that the group is “gravely concerned” that a letter sent from the administration to the school’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter represents a threat to students’ “freedom of speech and … association.” In the letter, sent two weeks ago to SPJ president and Quad News managing editor Jaclyn Hirsch, university officials reprimanded the SPJ for supporting the Quad News, an independent online student newspaper, not recognized by the university. Administrators threatened to shut the chapter down if the affiliation did not stop.

Bushnell had since responded to media coverage of the first letter, stating two weeks ago that the SPJ “may not and should not serve as a blind or cover for” the Quad News.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the SPJ had not yet had a discussion about the letter with administrators, said Neil Ralston, the SPJ Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs, though he added that he had “briefly” spoken with Bushnell over the phone and left his contact information with her last week.

In an e-mail, Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan, speaking for both himself and Bushnell, declined to comment for this article.

The letter from FIRE said Bushnell’s response only helps to indicate an “unhealthy preference among QU administrators for censorship and silence than free and open debate.”

The administration should respond to the SPJ by Oct. 8, clarifying that SPJ members may “interact with outside groups, in ways that do not violate QU policy, with impunity” in order to “restore the good name and reputation” of the university, FIRE added in the letter.

Ralston wrote in an e-mail that since his quick chat with Bushnell, he has not heard from her or other administrators.

Quinnipiac University is a private university, and journalists and experts have said that the school has no obligation to uphold First Amendment rights. The school stresses it does not “abuse … First Amendment/free speech rights,” according to Bushnell’s memo.

Nonetheless, Ralston said, the SPJ “will be interested if the Quinnipiac administration responds.”

Meanwhile, the administration continues to remain mum — at least to the Quad News. Although editors told the News over the last two weeks that they have requested to talk with the administration, Bushnell, the U.S. News & World Report reported Monday, “see[s] no value in meeting.”

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