As colleges and universities in the United States continue to absorb large sums of money or simply manage to stay afloat in the midst of a socially-economic changing atmosphere in the field of higher education, one common tactic seems to emerge: trading in the importance of student operated journalism and college newspapers for a polished, marketable school “branding.”
Student reporters, college newspapers and their advisors have become the target of institutional administrations that seek to deter requested information in order to promote a solely positive image of the school, resulting in a marketable place for incoming students and a governing body with no means of accountability in their decisions and procedures. Through this, college newspapers and journalism departments have potential news stories smothered, have been diminished in size and budget or have been entirely eradicated from campuses.
One may view this situation as an issue for multiple reasons, but most importantly it comes down to the point that college newspapers have served as the platform for a student’s constitutional freedom of speech while also being the “watchdog” of individuals who, in their positions of power, ultimately affect the education and lives of those students.
In an Aug. 23, 2019, article for “The Atlantic” titled “Bureaucrats put the squeeze on college newspapers,” Adam Willis, a freelance writer based in Washington D.C., addresses the obstructions that face student reporters and student-led news sources on college and university campuses.
Willis introduces this analysis through a Sept. 2017 story in which student writer at the time Rebecca Liebson reported on their institution’s announcement of a series of budget cuts to take place to the institution that would include department terminations to its faculty and staff; following the release of the article, student protests and general discontent emerged on campus at the decision. Liebson was then brought into a meeting by the institution’s media relations department for a “fact-check” of the article, a ruse which turned into Liebson being questioned on their ethics as a reporter. Throughout the rest of their collegiate career, Liebson faced unanswered questions, information smothering and blatant ridicule by their institution’s administration and media relations personal.
Liebson now works for “The New York Times,” mentioning that they have never gone through more roadblocks for story information than while in school.
Liebson’s story is synonymous with many student reporters, college newspapers and their advisors. Administrations have issued multiple forms of news source infringement like that of gaslighting Liebson. Willis discusses that, “A 2016 study by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) outlined an array of tactics used by administrators to ‘subordinate campus journalism to public relations’ through directly undercutting the rights to free speech on their campuses.”
Included in these tactics is the possible withholding of news source operating funds. Willis writes, “‘Few school newspapers are financially independent from the institutions they cover,’ says Chris Evans, president of the College Media Association. As a result, college administrators hold powerful leverage over student journalists and their faculty advisors. The need for aggressive student news organizations is as acute as ever. But image-obsessed administrators are hastening the demise of these once-formidable campus watchdogs.”
Willis points out in the closing of their article that, “The Constitution protects press freedom because governments function better, and officials behave more conscientiously, when their doings are publicly reported. Especially as university administrative bureaucracies sprawl, student newspapers provide a crucial source of accountability.”
One of the Collegian’s functions is to hold those in this administrative power accountable. The Collegian remains to be a student-run collegiate newspaper whose main source of funding does in fact come from its institution. Foremost, the Collegian will remain, as it has throughout its 124 volumes, a platform that works to provide a secure space for student voices whilst protecting their constitutional freedom of speech.