HAMDEN — Quinnipiac University administrators should officially “withdraw its threat” of banning the school chapter of the national Society of Professional Journalists from campus, The New York Times editorial board wrote Wednesday.
The 334-word opinion piece, written almost two months after Quinnipiac Student Center Director Daniel W. Brown issued the “official warning” to school SPJ chapter President Jaclyn Hirsch, described the “unusual lengths” to which Quinnipiac has gone to “curb the activities of student journalists” at Quad News, the school’s independent news Web site.
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Whether there will be an administrative response to the piece is unclear, but the editorial has brought the dispute back into the national spotlight.
“Such intimidation does not speak well of Quinnipiac’s commitment to freedom of speech, open-mindedness or academic inquiry,” said the Times editorial board.
In a telephone interview, editorial writer Maura Casey, who wrote the piece for the board, said the situation piqued her interest because the national SPJ board came to the defense of the local chapter and wrote a letter to Quinnipiac officials, demanding explanation of the letter.
“It’s the whole back-and-forth that I just sort of woke up to,” she said. “We wanted to write about it.”
Casey added: “The New York Times gets upset as any newspaper would about questions of implied censorship, questions of freedom of speech. We get upset about this stuff, and we think if you are going to draw a line in the sand, those are good issues to draw a line for.”
It is unclear how Quinnipiac administrators will respond to the editorial — if they respond at all. Although several national journalism organizations have requested that Quinnipiac officials contact the SPJ about the letter, SPJ Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs Neil Ralston wrote in an e-mail message this week that administrators have not yet established contact.
Moreover, Quinnipiac Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell said she had no comment on the Times editorial.
“I can’t speak to their motives,” she wrote in an e-mail message.
Bushnell did comment on the situation last month, when the News wrote an editorial on the matter. In a statement to Quinnipiac students at the time, she wrote that the school’s “purported abuse of student First Amendment/free speech rights [is] nothing … further from the truth.”
The Quinnipiac administration has not spoken out about the letter since that statement. Over the past year, several professors at the school have said officials long for news of the letter would die down.
On campus, however, the editorial made few ripples. Many of the 25 students interviewed in an informal poll on campus early Wednesday afternoon said they had not heard of The New York Times’ piece — but they said they wanted to read it.
Often, Times editorial pieces regard larger, more broad-based national topics like the elections, health care and the nation’s prison system. It is unusual for the board to write on specific higher education institutions like Quinnipiac — let alone the squabbles of these institutions.
But this time the Times has now taken notice of what it terms “anything but ordinary” Quinnipiac actions against the Quad News. (Although several past editorials have mentioned the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and its polls, the Wednesday piece is the only one the board has written about Quinnipiac University non-polling matters in at least 25 years.)
The Quinnipiac newspaper conflict has lasted for about two years. After editors of the official newspaper, the Quinnipiac Chronicle, left the school periodical in May, they formed the Quad News Web site, which is not officially recognized by the administration.
The News was the first to report on the SPJ letter in September.