College editors go to bat for ousted adviser

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.)
Cathy Stablein, who has been faculty adviser for the Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based College of DuPage student newspaper since 1987, was recently removed from that position and told to retool the journalism program. Editor-in-chief Vikaas Shanker believes the move is in response to stories critical of school officials. Stablein’s ouster, he says, is “shady and unwarranted” and “an illegal action.” His letter to administrators is after the jump.

From: Courier/Editor-in-Chief – Vikaas Shanker
Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2011 5:06 PM
To: [School administrators, the ACLU and others]
Subject: Removal of College Media Adviser by Administration at College of DuPage

Dear Dean of Liberal Arts Daniel Lloyd, and Dean of Student Affairs Sue Martin,

Both Vikaas Shanker, former Editor in Chief, and I, the current Editor in Chief, have just received word that in a meeting with Professor Cathy Stablein on May 26, you have administratively removed her from her position as the Courier student newspaper Adviser.

As the best judges on the inner-workings of the Courier, we can both say without a doubt that removing Cathy from her position as adviser to the Courier with less than a week’s notice would negatively impact the student editors, newspaper content, and the student body that relies on our reporting to find out what’s going on at COD. Basically, it will cripple the newspaper and the money it brings into the college’s student activity funds.

In addition, this kind of tampering with the free press will hurt COD’s accreditation status with the Higher Learning Commission, the Illinois Community College Board, and the Lincoln Foundation for Performance Excellence, because the action goes against COD’s core values of Integrity, Honesty, Respect and Responsibility. Attached is a copy of COD’s Core Values and Mission Statement, bolded with sections that are pertinent to this letter.

According to the Illinois College Campus Press Act, “A collegiate media adviser must not be terminated transferred, removed, otherwise disciplined, or retaliated against for refusing to suppress protected free expression rights of collegiate student journalists and of collegiate student editors.”

Although your reasoning behind removing her as our adviser is an assumption that she cannot handle the time commitment of the Courier while retooling the journalism program, to us, the removal of Cathy is an act as shady as it is unwarranted. This action against her comes a semester term after the Courier effectively found and reported on administration’s shortcomings. Through our publication, we called out administration when it excluded student input, exposed a strategic failing of new signage on campus, and gave recommendations on the Board of Trustees election that administrators clearly did not like among other criticisms.

The role of the Courier, as campus media, is not to be a public relations mouthpiece for the college. It’s to provide timely, accurate, and newsworthy coverage of the college, whether it is good or bad for the college’s image. As stated in section 5 of the Illinois College Campus Press Act:

“‘Campus media’ means any matter that is prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast by students at State-sponsored institutions of higher learning, that is distributed or generally made available, either free of charge or for a fee, to members of the student body, and that is prepared under the direction of a student media adviser.”

This includes the Courier print edition, online edition, Chaparral magazine, and COD TODAY orientation issue.

If you really knew Cathy and how she works, you would have known that she could advise the Courier without sacrificing her UNCOMPENSATED additional work this summer – revamping the journalism program. You did not so much as ask Cathy if she could fulfill her extra duties. Revamping the journalism program is a task that is expected to be equally shared by the other journalism instructor and Cathy. The journalism program is not solely Cathy’s responsibility. You also did not ask her if she was willing to give up her position as Courier Adviser. Also, neither Vikaas nor I was consulted to see how this action would affect student editors and the journalistic learning at the Courier; this is another failing of administration in obtaining deserved student input.

Cathy offers decades of experience as a reporter and teacher, over 20 years of which have been spent at College of DuPage as the adviser to the Courier. She also has helped advise the paper towards many awards and achievements including an ACP National Pacemaker award, finalist, and most recently, a national SPJ Mark of Excellence award. The newspaper is also considered the best community college newspaper in the state of Illinois as it constantly wins the most Illinois Community College Journalism Association awards every year in the weekly and biweekly category. It’s even a benchmark of success for many four-year university newspapers.

Cathy devotes a great deal of time and passion to her position as adviser. This entails helping student editors apply the tenets of journalism to their reporting, creating newsworthy, timely and impacting stories about the college and its activities. She has always been available to help the staff and answer questions on the conduct of reporting. She has never censored the newspaper’s content, nor has she forced us to take a certain slant on a story. All stories have been the product of student journalists.

Yet, you removed her as if this is no big deal. You gave her less than one week to move out of the Courier office. And by not even giving her a statement in writing about her removal, you discredit all she has done for the college and the newspaper. It’s also a sign that you do not recognize the Courier as a leading student organization.

If this isn’t unprofessional, we don’t know what is, especially considering President Robert Breuder made it specifically clear at a town hall meeting with students that he will treat the Courier as he would other professional newspapers like the Daily Herald.

We view Cathy’s removal from her position as Courier adviser as an illegal action, and as a retaliatory attack on our legally protected rights as students and editors of college media. We will take whatever steps are necessary to protect these rights.

That said, if you had and have concerns about the content of the publication, my door is always open and I am happy to meet with anyone who wants input into the publishing process, as I am always interested in ways to make the newspaper better.

It would be much preferable for all of us to have a broad-ranging discussion about the content of the newspaper in a private, relaxed and non-confrontational setting, rather than having the ugly blow-up in the national media that always accompanies the removal of a successful collegiate newspaper adviser.

Unfortunately, the way in which you are going about removing Cathy, led to this letter to you, with all college employees carbon copied; because they have a right to know.

We both hope you do the right thing and let Cathy Stablein remain as adviser to the Courier student newspaper. If not, then we will look for other, impartial entities to decide that you do not have the right to remove her as our adviser.

Thank you.

Nick Davison, Editor in Chief, Courier student newspaper

Vikaas Shanker, former Editor in Chief, Courier student newspaper
vikaas.shanker@gmail.com

Nick Davison
Editor in Chief
Courier Student Newspaper
630-942-2683
editor@cod.edu

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