John L. Lahey has been the president of Quinnipiac University for 21 years. One would think that in this two-decade span, he would have learned a thing or two about education.
But his administration’s threat this week against the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists — for its interactions with an independent student newspaper — runs directly (read: despicably) counter to core tenets of liberal education (and, potentially, the law).
As the News reported this week, Quinnipiac’s Student Center Director Daniel Brown sent a letter Monday to Jaclyn Hirsch of the SPJ chapter. “This,” he wrote, “serves as an official warning that any further interaction or endorsements with The QUAD News could result in the Quinnipiac University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists losing its recognition status.”
Since the Quad News is not a “recognized student organization,” he explained, it does not have “any privileges and may not operate on campus.”
For a moment, let us try, hard as it might be, to set aside the fact that Quinnipiac is a university, not kindergarten as its administrators’ actions might suggest, and consider another disturbing truth: the Quad News should not even have to exist.
It was formed, in fact, only after the Quinnipiac administration began controlling first the Web content and then the editorial content of the de facto independent newspaper on campus, The Chronicle. The online publication’s editors are disgruntled former editors of the once-legitimate weekly, which, for the record, is now run indirectly by school officials, essentially through intimidation. (Officials hand-choose — and pay —an editor and publisher, who in turn remain loyal to them.)
So not only has Lahey’s staff restricted the activities of a well-intentioned campus organization; it has also tampered with and hampered what should be an independent student press.
As journalists, this outrages us. As students, though, we find ourselves even more perturbed.
First, the university’s actions raise fair First Amendment questions. Although it is a private institution, Quinnipiac receives public funding — and the Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) established that newspapers with past histories of editorial independence may not be censored by school officials. And in spirit at least, the move is an assault on freedom of assembly.
But more important, what happened to academic freedom? And, for that matter, sound pedagogical practice? On these points, Yalies must strenuously and publicly object. Everyone on our campus — faculty, students, administrators — should feel her blood boil at the thought of students so nearby subject to such inane and misguided policy.
To his credit, Lahey has transformed Quinnipiac into a thriving university. But what good is a university whose leadership cares more about image and liability than expression and learning?
Not much good at all. So tell him what you think. President Lahey’s office phone number is 203-582-8700 and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or better yet, just quote from his school’s own student handbook. In outlining official philosophy toward student groups, after all, it reads, “Human development is a life process leading to the development of self-determination and self-direction.”
So much for that.