Seattle Central Community College's award-winning student newspaper, The City Collegian, has shut down after more than 40 years, after a bitter dispute between college administrators and the faculty and students running the paper.
Seattle Central Community College’s award-winning student newspaper has shut down after more than 40 years, following a bitter dispute that pitted college administrators against faculty and students running the paper.
Advocates of The City Collegian say administrators tried to rein in the paper and muzzle free speech for more than a year. But the college says it was left in the lurch this summer after the faculty adviser resigned from the paper without giving notice.
Some concerned faculty have formed a group called the Committee for the Revival of an Independent Student Press (CRISP). Faculty representatives are scheduled to sit down with Seattle Central’s President Mildred Ollée next week in hopes of resolving the dispute and reinstating the biweekly paper.
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The dispute can be traced back to a controversial piece that ran in January 2007, in which opinion editor Lee Myers linked African-American crime rates to black culture and appeared to condone racial profiling. The piece outraged many African-American students at the college and led to demonstrations and an apology from the paper’s editor-in-chief.
In the aftermath, Ollée called for stronger oversight by the paper’s Publications Board, a group that had taken a hands-off approach in the past. The chair of that board is Laura Mansfield, who is also the college’s director of communications.
Then, on June 11 of this year, the Collegian’s adviser, Jeb Wyman, resigned from the paper.
“The publications board … has been hostile to the Collegian all year,” Wyman wrote in his resignation letter. “By Laura’s own admission, the board was established with the intent of controlling the student press on this campus, and this mission was dutifully carried out from its first meeting.”
Wyman said in his letter that Mansfield and dean of students Lexie Evans pushed to institute a rule requiring that any students working as editors on the paper be taking at least 10 credits, which would have reduced the newspaper’s staff.
“I have no choice but to conclude that Laura’s motives are to restrict free student speech, diminish the journalism program, or punish the Collegian for content she resents,” Wyman wrote.
Mansfield said Wednesday that the 10-credit rule applies to all campus clubs and that she is insulted by Wyman’s accusations.
“I would emphatically deny that any coverage or content led to the fact that The Collegian is not being published this quarter,” she said. “It wasn’t our intent to stop publishing The Collegian. The adviser [Wyman] left in the spring quarter with no notice and no arrangements for a successor.”
Mansfield said that although she’s been taken to task in Collegian articles “on several occasions” and is also responsible for promoting the college’s public image, she doesn’t feel there is any conflict of interest with her chairing the board that oversees the paper.
“I’m fully committed to students having an independent paper. I’m their champion,” she said.
Mansfield said that since the paper shut down, students have been experimenting with other forms of expression, including publishing a newsletter called the “Seattle Central ‘Zine.”
But others have dismissed that effort as being heavily influenced by college administrators and not an independent voice of the students.
Student J.K. Howell, who was elected the paper’s editor-in-chief in June, said he found out only in August — when he asked Evans if he could get into the newsroom — that he was out of a job and the paper was being shut down.
Tom Davis, who teaches English as a second language and who is a member of CRISP, said a free press is essential to any democracy.
“The students are adults who are intelligent and responsible people,” he said. “They need to be given the freedom to say what they think and feel, and take the consequences for what they say.”
The paper, first published in 1966, has won numerous state and regional awards and has twice been a finalist for the national Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker award.
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639