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College newspapers should hold administration accountable, not the opposite

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

North Wind

The front page of The North Wind's April 9 issue contributed by The North Wind.

Last Friday, the board of directors at Northern Michigan University's student newspaper, The North Wind, dismissed the newspaper's faculty adviser, Cheryl Reed, and refused the current student managing editor - the only applicant - the position of editor-in-chief.

Their justification: Reed was teaching The North Wind's editors to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request public records, like university contracts and travel expenses for members of the administration, and to write transparent investigative journalism pieces.

The board's response is alarming and shows a blatant disregard for both the First Amendment and the role a newspaper holds in a democratic society.

In a statement on the issue, The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) called for the reinstatement of Reed and for the university administration to evaluate the practices of the North Wind Board of Directors to ensure it observes free press principles.

"Colleges and universities that are fortunate enough to have student newspapers should give advisers the freedom to teach students about good, ethical journalism without fear of retribution if something less than positive is published about the institution," Dana Neuts, SPJ national president, said.

Nobody, whether it is a government, business or university, is going to be completely transparent. That is where the position a newspaper holds in society becomes essential.

Whether it is Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovering Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal, broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow's attempts to end Senator Joseph McCarthy's reign of terror, The North Wind's efforts to shed light on Northern Michigan's tactless spending or The Miami Student's endeavor to explain the complexities of sexual assault on a college campus, it is the responsibility of a newspaper to hold the administration accountable.

Equally, if not more prominently, the newspaper serves as an important medium for students and faculty to hold thoughtful and constructive conversations on the issues of the day.

What if Miami didn't have this channel for discussion? What if the conversations about Greek life, drinking culture, sexual assault, racism and Bishop Woods were non-existent? Or worse, confined to Yik Yak?

It is important to note that the Miami University administration has no say in the direction or coverage that The Miami Student newspaper chooses to take. The Miami Student is a student-run organization with students working on both the editorial and business sides of the operation. Regardless of any input that faculty members or the newspaper's adviser have, it is the student editors who have the final say and that is exactly how it should be.

The North Wind's problem hasn't happened to The Miami Student in the past five years. When the administration doesn't like something the Student has published, it doesn't dismiss the adviser or scold the editor-in-chief. It responds, like other disgruntled readers, with a Letter to the Editor.

The Miami Student is not here to make Miami look good or bad; it's here to report the facts, and there should never be fear that a university will retaliate against a college newspaper for doing so, even if those facts shed an unflattering light on the university.

This might be a landmark case for college newspapers and it is important that student newspapers across the country join hands in solidarity with The North Wind in an effort to protect editorial freedom.