REVIEW OF EAGLE AND
THE CONTROVERSY OF 1996-1997

By Dale Glaser and King Collins
Former Faculty Advisors of the Mendocino College Eagle

The following review is presented to help the college community understand what happened while we worked as faculty advisors to the college newspaper.

OUR WORK WAS BASED ON FOUR PRINCIPLES

1) The purpose of a community college is best served by an active and open forum about whatever concerns its students, staff and the local community.

As faculty advisors, we did our best to create the conditions for an open forum at the college by actively encouraging everyone to express his or her opinion. If you find any evidence to the contrary, we would like to know of it.

2) Students learn journalistic skills best when engaged in creating and managing a vehicle for this open forum.

The educational value of the open forum could be expanded upon and supported by many different studies. However, we think it is self evident that learning is enhanced when the subject matter includes real dialog rather than just football scores and press releases. In the case of journalism at the college level, it is hard to imagine any other approach. In a community of scholars, what could be better than to let those scholars speak their minds? The student of journalism, then, has the task of understanding and making understandable all that is said. From Socrates to Horace Mann, educators have endorsed dialog and critical discussion as the essence of intellectual life. Mendocino College should endorse it as well.

3) In journalism, truthfulness and integrity are absolutely essential.

We did everything we could to maintain the honesty and integrity of the paper. Any criticisms of the integrity of the paper or its staff were always met squarely and answered fully. After all is said and done we know of no case in which the paper or its editors were guilty of deliberate misrepresentation.

4) Students should manage the newspaper in a democratic fashion.

In our tenure as advisors, we established a process by which any student who worked on the newspaper 30 hours or more per month (7 or 8 hours a week), was a full voting member of the newspaper staff. These 30-hour students along with the two advisors constituted what we called the Senior Staff which had final say in all matters regarding the paper, including the selection of the student editor. Each individual, including the advisors, had one vote in the Senior Staff. Such a process guarantees that students control the paper as long as three or more students are working a significant amount of hours and it prevents a takeover by students who claim by their mere presence to be members of the staff. We feel that this process of decision making coupled with real work is one of the most significant advances we made for the paper. It provides a way for the faculty advisors to express their opinions as mentors and to work on the paper in whatever capacity is required. We think this on-the-job student/advisor instruction and decision making process is almost essential to jump-start a project as intense and comprehensive as a good newspaper, especially at a small community college.

We would also like to take note of other improvements that were introduced during our tenure, particularly the advancement of the paper from manual to computerized production, enhancements in the design and layout of the newspaper, and the first appearance of the Eagle web page.

When the Eagle of our tenure is compared to the current newspaper, the decline in overall quality is obvious, in spite of considerably more money paid to the lead faculty (McLelland), the advisor (Lambert) and the acquisition of new computer equipment. The current newspaper makes a joke of the supposed professionalism of the new journalism department.

THE CONTROVERSY AND ITS AFTERMATH

In the fall of 1996, President Ehmann's appointment of his personal secretary as the college public relations officer, an action taken against the expressed concerns of many faculty, sparked a major controversy. At the same time, Dean Susan Bell wrote a "confidential" letter to the Board of Trustees which revealed deep divisions within the administration. The Eagle staff decided to use the Eagle to present a forum of as many points of view as we could gather on this significant issue.

After the staff printed the letter from Susan Bell and opened up the paper to all sides in the discussion, the following events took place:

1) We (faculty advisors) are accused of "taking over" the Eagle for our own purposes.

Interestingly, we weren't accused of taking over before when we spent countless hours without pay making sure a newspaper got produced on a regular basis.

2) The link to the Eagle web site is broken.

Many hours were spent by the student staff developing the site and making an archive of the issues as they were printed. What happened to that valuable resource? Is there any mention of it in the current Eagle? Is there any mention of it on the Mendocino College official web site? It is difficult to express the emotion we feel when confronted with this outright attack on free speech, and our own hard work.

Here's what happened: Dale Glaser helped inaugurate the first Eagle web site early in 1995. It was the first web site created for the college and was located on Glaser's web account. It provided information about the newspaper and how to get involved, as well as an electronic archive of issues as they were printed. A year later the Eagle site became the first to be linked to the new college web site. But quite suddenly, when the content of the paper became "controversial" in the fall of 1996, the link was summarily broken by the administration. An e-mail letter from Tonia Widler, then the college web master, clearly states that the reason for unlinking the web site was the content of the paper.

This letter is the smoking gun as far as First Amendment issues are concerned, and could be used to bring legal pressure on the college to reinstate the public forum and the web site. After the Eagle web site was unlinked, the advisors and student editor spent many hours lobbying for the educational and state-of-the-art communication value of the web site. And while our resolution affirming the value of the Eagle web site and recommending it be reconnected was actually passed by the academic senate, the administration ignored it, and to this day there is no link.

We want to put on record that we continue to support the Eagle and the open forum by maintaining the Mendocino College Eagle Forum web site at www.greenmac.com. The web site includes back issues from our tenure as advisors, and some follow-up dialog on the administration/English department takeover of the printed newspaper. (See 3 and 4 below)

3) The administration attempts to shut down the Eagle.

In the August, 1997 Board of Trustees meeting, Don Vasconcellos, Vice President, and Carl Ehmann, President, blatantly lied in an attempt to prevent the Eagle from publishing. Shortly before the board meeting, the Eagle learned of the administration's plans. At the board meeting, Eagle faculty advisor, Collins, directly asked the administration if they intended to prevent the Eagle from publishing and why. Vasconcellos acknowledged that was their intention and the reason, he said, was because the McLelland proposal (see 4 below) called for discontinuing the Eagle in the fall. It turned out that the proposal said nothing of the kind. Vasconcellos and Ehmann were caught on video in this manipulation and the editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal denounced both their misrepresentation and the McLelland proposal which she said was not good enough to use to restructure anything. The administration backed down and let the Eagle and student editor Marya Legrand continue to publish.

4) McLelland gets support for her proposal from the academic senate and the associated students.

The McLelland proposal was published in the September, 1998 Eagle. In the next issue, the Eagle staff responded in detail, but McLelland and her supporters never made any effort to incorporate the input from the Eagle staff. Instead, Nancy McLelland went before the academic senate and the associated students, and got both of these bodies to support her proposal, essentially unchanged, in spite its dubious merit. The public forum aspects of our effort were characterized as maverick and out of hand, and the new proposal was offered as a way to bring more support and better funding to the paper.

The latter point was true, because the administration was willing to do almost anything to quiet the critical voices heard in the college newspaper. Some of those who supported the open forum probably felt that the chance for a well funded program was worth the price of putting it under the control of the English department. The question of free speech was set aside in favor of a controlled, circumscribed, and supposedly more "professional" form of journalism.

We could comment in more detail on the culture of silence and the tendency to "kill the messenger" that stiffles criticism but it is enough to note that the support of these two representative bodies in no way validates the suppression of the public forum. The First Amendment protects free speech, especially an established public forum, from encroachment by any institution including representative bodies. That is how the words "Congress shall pass no law that restricts..." is interpreted.

In this regard, it is also important to understand the mechanism used by the administration to take over the paper: Under our tenure the Eagle was an instructional program with an open democratic organization, at times involving as many as ten students. Under the new plan, the English department runs the Eagle as a typical hierarchical academic class with the instructor in charge. If a student cannot enroll because of a specified class meeting time, he or she cannot participate in the paper. We believe the subordination of the newspaper to the scheduling of one specific journalism class is "a priori restraint" on free expression since the Eagle is the only medium of public expression at the college.

Clearly, we, as faculty advisors, would not have disqualified anyone because they could not meet at a particular time. Our criterion for participating in the paper was the number of hours (30 per month) actually working on the paper. During the time when we were being accused of taking control from students, we spent many hours responding to an administration request for a set of rules which clarified the democratic decision-making process we had established. (These papers should be available from Susan Bell). Once again, let us emphasize that we feel the open democratic process and composition of the "Senior Staff" was one of the most valuable contributions we made to the college.

5) The new journalism program is installed

In January 1998, the new journalism program under the direction of Nancy McLelland was launched. The Eagle staff, including the advisors, decided to support the new journalism program by encouraging students to join the new venture. We hoped that the strong influence of the students, several of whom learned their skills under our mentorship, would prevail despite the obvious intentions of McLelland and the administration to control the paper.

The students attempted to retain democratic control they thought they had been promisedthe new faculty advisor, Lilian Brown, had said in a previous Eagle interview that she supported student control. Brown vacillated on the question of who would select the editor, and apparently under pressure from the administration, picked the new editor, in spite of a vote which had selected another student. Then as things heated up and students protested, Ms. Brown left for what she said was a better job in the Bay Area. The students, who were already familiar with the publishing process, put out several issues of the paper on their own during the spring semester, 1998. Meanwhile, LeeAnn Lambert had been selected as the faculty advisor.

6) The journalism students quit and the Eagle deteriorates

The next semester, Fall 1998, the students expected to be able to elect their own editor. However, once again, in spite of an overwhelming vote for a particular student to be editor, LeeAnn Lambert selected another student.

The student staff discovered that, in the new journalism program, the important decisions about the newspaper, including the selection of the student editor and other positions was to be decided solely by the new advisor. All efforts on the part of the student staff to set up a democratic process were quashed. The takeover by the administration eventually led to the wholesale exit of the student staff. (See attached letter of October, 1998). Since that time, the quality of the paper has drastically deteriorated.

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

The newspaper is under the direct control of the English department. The embarrassingly low quality of the new college newspaper is borne with barely a murmur of discontent from those who heralded it as part of a more professional journalism program. The students who were capable of putting out a quality paper are no longer working on it. The web site is officially ignored but remains under our protection waiting to be passed on to the next generation of journalists.

Nonetheless, we feel we succeeded in our essential objectives during our tenure at the eagle: We provided an open forum in wh ich many members of the college community participated expressing a wide range of opinions. Students were educated in many aspects of newspaper work. We met the requirement of truthfulness and integrity, and we fostered a democratic, student controlled, faculty mentored publication.

We failed to get the support of the faculty and student representation, and we lost our positions of faculty advisors. The democratic process we created and nurtured no longer exists at the newspaper.

That is where matters stand as of April, 1999. We certainly do not expect this state of affairs to last forever.

We await the time when serious journalism and the public forum return to our campus.

If you have any questions about any aspect of the newspaper and our involvement in it, please contact us.

 

King Collins,
Faculty advisor to the Eagle
from January 1996 - December, 1997
greenmac@pacific.net

Dale Glaser,
Faculty advisor to the Eagle
from 1990 - December, 1997
dglaser@pacific.net


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