One week after Quinnipiac University administrators threatened to ban the school chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists from campus for supporting the independent online student newspaper, the Quad News, administrators have finally broken their silence.
In a memo posted Friday on Quinnipiac’s MyQ portal, a student-resource Web site similar to YaleStation, Vice President of Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell blasted the site, calling it a blog that “aggressively sought to undermine the continued existence” of the Quinnipiac Chronicle, “a University-supported newspaper.” She also accused the Quad News of using the school chapter of the SPJ as a “cover for their activities.” Administrators, she added, have stopped interacting with and “no longer have confidence in” the intentions of the Quad News.
In the same letter, Bushnell also criticized an editorial in Friday’s News that condemned the Quinnipiac administration for having “tampered with and hampered what should be an independent student press.” The editorial, Bushnell said, was a “distortion of the truth.”
The Quad News editors fired back with a statement on their Web site on Saturday. The student editors said they dispute Bushnell’s accusations and have “no ill-will towards The Chronicle.” Although student editors had approached the administration to meet over their limited access to sports staff and athletes, contrary what the news reported Thursday, the administration have not answered back, several Quad News editors said.
The memo follows a week of media pressure on administrators to respond after news broke that the administration threatened the school’s SPJ chapter in a letter and limited the Quad News’ access to athletes and athletic administrators. Bushnell’s letter shifts the blame from the administration and implicates the students who founded and run the Quad News.
“Apparently these students want to be independent of the University when it involves student organizational rules and responsibilities, but they want to be part of the University when it comes to having access to University resources and the privileges of being a recognized student organization,” Bushnell wrote in the 870-word memo.
“Unfortunately, in the real world, responsibility and playing by the rules go hand in hand with the privileges of membership.”
QUAD NEWS RESPONSE
In their response, Quad News Editor in Chief Jason Braff and Managing Editors Jaclyn Hirsch and Kendra Butters disputed Bushnell’s claim that they distributed anti-Chronicle literature. Their flyers, they wrote, “contained no language that discouraged writing for The Chronicle.”
Butters wrote in an e-mail to the News that the editors were “outraged” that the administration would create “a high school ‘he said/she said’ situation.”
Bushnell did not return an e-mail request for comment over the weekend. Reached on his cell phone Sunday, Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan deferred comment to Bushnell. Morgan later wrote in an e-mail that both he and Bushnell declined to comment for this article.
Braff and Chronicle editor in chief Stacey Kinnier both said Sunday that the editors of the Quad News and the editors of the Chronicle have wished each other luck with their respective ventures.
The Quad News editors also disputed in their statement the administrative claim that SPJ was being used as a cover. They wrote that a Quinnipiac staff member had approved room reservations made by SPJ for Quad News use. But two weeks ago, they added, administrators canceled the SPJ room reservations for the rest of the semester.
Braff said in an interview that, as an alternative, the newspaper’s staff has been meeting in the school cafeteria on Monday nights. He emphasized that his conversations with Student Center Manager Daniel Brown suggest that the Quad News will be able to meet there.
Brown could not be reached for comment Sunday night.
TO THE NEWS
In addition to taking aim at the Quad News, Bushnell’s message rails against last Friday’s Yale Daily News editorial on the situation.
“A recent editorial in the Yale Daily News proves the power of the press,” she wrote at the beginning of her note, “a power which in this case has been abused and results in a complete distortion of the truth. Quinnipiac cannot stand by and watch lies and misrepresentations stand as the so-called truth.”
The “News’ View,” called for Yale students and staff to contact Quinnipiac President John L. Lahey for “despicably” targeting the Quad News and caring “more about image and liability than expression and learning.” Lahey did not return a request for comment left on his home voicemail Sunday.
Andrew Mangino ’09, the News’ current editor in chief, said in an interview that the News’ editorial board stands by the editorial and said he “strenuously” objects to the claim that the editorial board “abused the power of the press.”
Writing the editorial involved “proper research and fact checking” based on media reports as well as correspondences with Quad News and Chronicle editors. He said he also attempted to contact administrators — including both Lahey and Bushnell — at least 24 hours in advance but did not receive any responses.
The editorial has evoked opposing opinions in the anonymous comment board on the News’ Web site. One comment, posted by “Informed Observer,” said although both the administration and Quad News are overreacting, the News was “fueling the fire.”
Mangino did not read or edit this story prior to press time.
CONCERN ALL AROUND
The events last week spurred the national SPJ to write a letter to Lahey, which said the organization is “extremely concerned” by the university’s actions. The memo called for discussions on the written warning Brown sent to the Quinnipiac chapter last week.
“We hope you will realize that banning a student organization for actions that are not only legal but well-intentioned would send a message across the country that the University leadership does not support [First Amendment principles],” the SPJ wrote.
The letter was signed by national SPJ President Dave Aeikens, national Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs Neil Ralston, Region 1 Director Luther Turmelle and Connecticut President Cindy Simoneau.
In her response, which came after the letter, Bushnell emphasized that the administration “has NEVER reviewed any content in advance of its publication, and … never will.”
Ralston said Saturday that he tried to contact school administrators and hopes to work with the university over his remaining concerns about free press.
He added: “It’s not our intention to make the situation worse. We just want to protect our chapter.”