Bringing Censor Back!

Record awaiting installation of new Editorial Board

by Kim-Jenna Jurriaans

Awaiting ComCil’s vote on last week’s proposal concerning the installation of an editorial board for the Antioch Record, hopes persist that this week’s ComCil meeting will bring more clarity about the future outline for the community’s newspaper. The board, if approved, will function interim for the fall term 2006 only, until a permanent board is established by the beginning of spring term 2007.

Dean of Faculty Andrzej Bloch, Vice President Rick Jurasek, and Community manager Levi B. Cowperthwaite, in reaction to recent controversy over student’s answers to “the Question of the Week?, in the September 15 issue of The Record, brought the proposal to ComCil last week. According to a memo sent by President Lawry to advisers and staff on September 18, several resonses to the question “What would you say to the Narc?” were seen by the College’s Lawyer as “high-threat messages” entering “high-risk legal territory”, thereby putting Antioch in danger of liability charges being pressed against the College. This, in combination with strong feelings within the administration that The Record is missing a clearly defined editorial policy, led to discussions about, and eventually putting down on paper of an outline for a new, empowered board to take responsibility for the Record’s content.

REB vs. RAB
The proposal, sent in to ComCil last Thursday, foresees in the installation of a Record Editorial Board (REB) to set out and enforce editorial policy, to be carried out by The Record’s editors. In doing so, the new Editorial Board would take on the role of the little, but more powerful, brother of the existing Record Advisory Board (RAB), which has been functioning as the main source of advice to editors and staff in previous years. So far, the existing Record Advisory Board only had the power to advice on editorial policy, without having the authority to enforce it. The new board, which would not replace but function in addition to RAB, would cover this authority-gap, in favor of more structured, institutional, control over printed content.
When asked about the reasons for installing the new board, Andrzej Bloch answered: ” It is our job to represent the interests of the school as an institution. Everything that is printed in the Record has the Antioch name on it and it reflects the school as an institution. The same applies if a faculty member would do something outrageous in class. The question is always, how do you balance academic freedom with respect of the institution.”

Educational value

In another memo, sent to the college faculty two days after his first testimony of concern about the content of this newspaper, President Lawry urges faculty to “be supportive and responsive” to requests to join the editorial board. In the memo, forwarded to the Record by various members of faculty, Lawry states that: “The college is the owner and publisher of The Record, which functions as part of the College’s educational mission. As an educational institution, we are responsible for the ethical and educational development of young people. Too much of the content of The Record suggests to me that we are failing in that mission.”

It is precisely this educational development, which the president urges so strongly, that others fear will be the first victim of the new policy. Community manager Levi B on ComCil concerns to the proposal: “There are several parts of the proposal that ComCil isn’t happy with. For example, why have two boards? Why put energy into this reactionary ad hoc board instead of investing in the old one? But there’s also the educational side. Part of education is taking risks. Taking away that option is taking away part of the educational value.”

According to Levi B, the CM, the number of seats on the board and the way they are filled is also an issue that worries ComCil. The proposal mentions the board as consisting of 4 members, 2 members of faculty and two students, who will be appointed collaboratively by the College President and the Community Manager. The latter mentions ComCil’s view that this board is not representative of the community.

Continuity

One major problem that RAB seems to have been struggling with in the past is continuity. Finding former editors to take a seat in the Advisory Board, for example, has been difficult at times. Introducing a system of stacked appointment in the board is one of the goals Andrzej Bloch sees for REB. The interim editorial board doesn’t solve the problem of continuity; it merely bridges the gap until negotiations over the form and authority of a permanent Editorial Board have finished. The administration sees a permanent Editorial Board as the best means to guarantee continuity and future implementation of the new editorial guidelines that will be set out by the interim board this term. So far, a lot of questions about the approach that the interim board will handle and what the permanent board will eventually look like, remain up in the air. Hopes are that a decision on the interim board proposal will be announced in this weeks ComCil meeting, with or without amendments.

Where it started

Back to the roots

Going back to what has started the argument about “bad editorial judgment” and the need for a cleaner editorial policy, the administration’s reaction to the comments printed in the September 15 issue of the Record managed to surprised many on and off campus, including faculty and people from the Yellow Springs community. And for many, it is seen as an example for the iron wind of change that seems to be blown thru the Antioch campus recently, to radically clean up whatever leaves of campus culture are still left lying in the grass, that characterize a college identity that doesn’t fit into the vision of the clean cut suburbia lawn that is set out for it.

Reports of students being called into the Dean of Faculty’s office, Memo’s to student advisers, urging them to meet with their advisees to denounce “hostile street-language” and “menacing speech”, in addition to the need for a midnight proof-read of a recent issue of the Record to protect it from further repercussions, are widely perceived as ways of intimidation and signs of an institutional tour de force to streamline the college.

Jen Parnell, who’s comment was found to be most damaging by the College’s lawyer, was called into the Dean of faculty’s office to discuss the possible consequences of her comment. “I was told that my statement was found prosecutable and felonious by the college lawyer and if the ‘Narc’ would feel offended, he could press charges. I had been in contact with my lawyer, who told me that since there is no clear and present danger to specifically named person, there is no liability. Andrzej insisted that that wasn’t true and that I had to watch what I say.” Denouncing rumors around campus, Andrzej Bloch made it clear to he Record, that “Jen’s comments were never and will not be a reason to expel her from school.”

Phone calls to the Civil Liberties Union, as well as attorney Mike Hiestand, legal consultant for the Student Press Association, also point towards the absence of liability in Jen Parnell’s specific case. Mike Hiestand: “even if the ‘Narc’ would make himself known and claim to be offended, that is his problem, not the student’s. There is no liability here.” This stands in strong contrast to the college’s legal council, that, according to the September 18 memo, said “these responses clearly signal that an unnamed person has cause to fear serious physical harm. This is intolerable as it is illegal.”

Since the school is a private institution, the 1st amendment, which prohibits censorship by government officials doesn’t apply. Actions to prevent certain material from being printed are therefore left to the discretion of the college. “Even so,” Hiestand continues,” Although actions against a student or the student paper would in this case not be illegal, it is still highly out of proportion.”

In an issue of the Record, printed in June of this year, last term’s editor William Parke-Sutherland was already voicing his concern about what he called efforts to censor the Antioch Record, calling it “a path down which I refuse to walk.”

Unclear

An interesting point of attention will also be the choice of sources that the interim board will turn to for information to base the new editorial policy upon. Levi B: “I don’t know the specifics yet, but I say we will look at Internal policy, the Honor Code, the Civil Liberties Code and advice from lawyers. The idea is that the board sets editorial policy to create a relationship of trust. It will not have hiring and firing power.”

Although they both tabled the proposal for the interim board, when it comes down to the appointment and position of the permanent REB in the community, the Dean of faculty’s view seems to be different from that of the Community manager. In answer to the question what procedure will be followed to install the new permanent board, Levi B. says: “My understanding is that it goes thru Comcil and that a rewriting of the legislative code is necessary. That means there has to be a two third majority in two different terms before it can get installed.” Contrary to CG’s views, Dean of Faculty Andrzej Bloch says he does not see the need to write the new Permanent board into the College leg-code: “Actually, I see this as business for AdCil rather than Comcil. The suggestions for appointments should be made by AdCil, with final appointment by the president.” Community manager Levi B.: “The Record comes out of activity fees, not part of the annual operating budget. Appointments don’t represent the community ownership. “Installing the interim board for this semester only requires temporary suspension of the code, which can be done with a majority vote. Following regular procedure, the permanent board should have to go thru a tougher procedure in order for REB to be written into the Leg-code. Whether a proposal for the permanent board will be presented to ComCil or not will likely be the result of discussion between the Community manager, the Dean of Faculty and the office of the President. This and other issues, including whether REB will have hiring and firing power over The Records editors need to be resolved within the course of this term.