The independence of student media nationwide is threatened, in part by administrative moves that place a priority on public relations rather than campus journalism, according to a new report.

"It has become disturbingly routine for student journalists and their advisers to experience overt hostility that threatens their ability to inform the campus community and, in some instances, imperils their careers or the survival of their publications," concludes a joint effort by the Washington-based American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Student Press Law Center.

"Administrative efforts to subordinate campus journalism to public relations are inconsistent with the mission of higher education to provide a space for intellectual exploration and debate."

The report opens by citing two well-chronicled 2015 incidents at the University of Missouri and Wesleyan University. The first involved a Missouri faculty member and a student videographer, while the second concerned the student papers at Wesleyan.

"While unusual for the attention they garnered, these incidents were by no means unique or even rare. It has become disturbingly routine for student journalists and their advisers to experience overt hostility that threatens their ability to inform the campus community and, in some instances, imperils their careers or the survival of their publications, as the sampling of cases discussed in this report demonstrates."

"Administrative efforts to subordinate campus journalism to public relations are inconsistent with the mission of higher education to provide a space for intellectual exploration and debate."

Various case studies cited by the report include dismissal of faculty members. Those include the 2015 removal at Fairmont State University in West Virginia of Michael Kelley, a journalism adviser, after, "following his students’ publication of a two-part series about unhealthy levels of mold in a campus dorm. The president and provost of the university explicitly told student editors that they wanted a less controversial newspaper with more positive stories."

In a rather odd trifecta, he was "the third journalism adviser in a row to leave Fairmont State under circumstances indicating retaliation over editorial content.

It then cites recent, roughly similar situations involving faculty at Butler University in Indiana, Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland, Saint Peter's University in Maryland, Muscatine Community College in Iowa, Delta State University in Mississippi and Northern Michigan University.

It concedes that it can't fully quantify "the retaliatory removal of journalism advisers or to say with certainty whether retaliation is increasing." Instead, it finds it revealing that one can generally " document the elimination of journalism programs and student journalistic publications," reporting a "notable diminution in opportunities for students to obtain classroom instruction in journalism or to practice journalism in school-supported media."

When I sent the report to Charles Whittaker, a professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, he said, "Yes, Jim, it is true."

"Student media — like media of all stripes — is under attack from a variety of corners. Diminished ad revenue and both the antipathy and indifference of students toward student media doesn’t help matters."

David Thigpen, who teaches journalism at the University of California, Berkeley had a similar initial take after inspecting the report:

"In a contentious political time, and also one where universities' dependence on outside donors is growing, student media can be seized on as a way of pushing a point of view rather than simply informing readers," he said.

"This is a problem because student media is an important training ground for the next generation of journalists."