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Biondi & Lay Board To Take Over SLU Student Newspaper (Updated)

May 2, 2007 Media 22 Comments

Not content running the athletics program at Saint Louis University, Fr Biondi seems to want to get more involved in the student newspaper. It is not uncommon for a university President to dislike the student newspaper as often they may not back the administration fully. The point of journalism, even on a university campus, is to present all sides of an issue — even those counter to administrators.
Basically the university wants to change the charter so they control the editorial advisory board, and hence the viewpoint of the paper. As lessons go, this might be good for the students in this day of corporate media conglomerates.

I received the following, written by someone close to the situation:

Today, April 30, the Editorial Board of the University News and the current and newly-elected presidents of the Student Government Association met with the Vice President of Student Development Kent Porterfield and Provost Joe Weixlmann. (Dr. Avis Meyer, the “unofficial adviser” of the U.News and my attorney Tim E. Hogan were asked to leave before the meeting began, or Weixlmann refused to conduct the meeting. They waited outside). The aforementioned students were then given two options:

1. That the students who want to write for an independent U.News would be allowed to do so, possibly under a different name that would be located off-campus, and would not be supported financially by the University. Existing debts to the University would have to be paid in full, and any monies in the current University News account would be subject to “a conversation” as to whether or not they would be given to this independent entity. There would be “some distribution rights on-campus.” It was not clear as to whether or not there would be a future for this independent paper after current members of the Editorial Board graduate.

2. Should the students choose to be involved in a “University-sponsored” publication, operated on behalf of the University, those students and that paper would operate under a new charter. The charter, for all intents and purposes, is similar to the current charter, in that the paper would be semi-independent, and the administration is responsible for appointing an adviser, and members to the advisory board. This paper can adopt its own constitution and bylaws, and is expected to uphold the “Jesuit Catholic” mission statement of the University. The Board of Trustees will no longer hold the charter; and will not have to vote on any changes to the organization. The charter creates a new position of a Student Media Coordinator, who oversees the Newspaper Production Adviser (the latter of which will be selected with “input” from the editorial staff, the advisory board, the VP of Student Development, and the Student Media Coordinator). The advisory board become strictly advisory in nature, and no longer has the ability to vote on anything affecting the U.News. The caveat? The Editorial Board and the Editor in Chief will be nominated by the Advisory Board to the VP of Student Development, and the VP will either approve the nomination or request another recommendation be submitted. The VP of Student Development can also dismiss or suspend any student editor for “misconduct or failure to perform their responsibilites adequately.” In essence, the entire editorial staff of the paper will be University employees, at the whim of the VP of Student Development.

The Ed Board asked may questions, and the gist of the conversation was this: The students must individually choose which publication they would rather work for, and report back before the end of the University’s fiscal year which is June 30th. Regardless, the Board of Trustees will vote to rescind the current charter of the University News and then this new charter will be held and upheld ONLY by the Office of Student Development. While the new charter stresses the independance of the paper, the hiring and firing of the editors makes the paper beholden to the University, and will instill great fear in the hearts of the students.

As a SLU student I fully support a paper which remains free of interference from the administration. Otherwise, you simply have a paper that is nothing but a fluff PR piece. The university puts out enough fluff already either through their own means or publications like the St. Louis Business Journal (one sided pieces on the arena tax issue). This is a simply power grab and an attempt to squash independent thought.

The Alumni from U. News are organizing in protest, I received a copy of this email:

Fellow U. News alumni,

On Monday afternoon the student editors of the University News were summoned to a meeting with Provost Joe Weixlmann and VP-Student Development Kent Porterfield. At the meeting, which Avis Meyer was not allowed to attend the meeting, the students were presented with a new charter for the paper that would be put before the university trustees this week.

As most of you know, the newspaper’s independence from administrative interference is guaranteed in the existing charter. The proposed charter, however, would allow university administrators to wield an unbelievable amount of control over the student press.

For instance, any candidates for editor positions would have to be approved first by an advisory board appointed by the university, and then the presumptive editor would have to be approved by the VP for Student Development before taking the position. And those editors, if they upset the university through the paper’s news coverage or editorial positions, could be removed at will by the university.

Also, the university will solely be in charge of selecting the advisor, and have a strong suspicion that Avis Meyer will not be SLU’s preferred choice.

Most troubling, especially for an institution of higher learning, it looks like SLU will not allow the student editors or anyone else to be present during the trustee’s deliberations to argue in favor of the existing charter.

The trustees’ executive committee will vote on the proposal on Thursday. I’m not sure if this would require a vote of the full board, but if it does that would happen on Friday.

Diana Benanti, the very capable editor of the paper, has asked for the alumni to help out and raise hell. Here’s what you can do:

1. Pass this email on to all the folks that I have forgotten. [Or pass this post along to others]

2. Call SLU. Here are the relevant numbers – VP-Student Development Kent Porterfield (314-977-2226); Provost Joe Weixlmann (314-977-3718); the Rev. President Lawrence Biondi (314-977-7777). [Link to SLU Administration page]

3. Contact the trustees. I don’t have numbers, but if you know any of these folks or do business with them, call them. Hopefully some enterprising you U Newsers will supply us old cranks with some phone numbers for these pezzonovanti.

Mr. Barry H. Beracha, Chairman
Ms. Robin Smith, Vice Chair
Mr. J. Joseph Adorjan
Mr. John S. Alberici
Rev. Andy Alexander, S.J.
Mr. Richard D. Baron
Rev. Lawrence Biondi, S.J.
Mr. William A. Blase, Jr.
Mr. Oliver C. Boileau
Mr. Thomas H. Brouster
Rev. Richard O. Buhler, S.J.
Rev. James J. Burshek, S.J.
Mr. Robert G. Clark
Mr. Larry Cockell
Mr. John M. Cook
Mr. Gerald E. Daniels
J. Daniel Daly, S.J.
Mr. Charles L. Drury, Sr.
Mr. Thomas P. Dunne, Sr.
Mr. L. B. Eckelkamp, Jr.
Mr. Robert N. Fox
Dr. Eva L. Frazer
Mr. Shaun R. Hayes
Mr. Joseph Imbs, III
Rev. James G. Knapp, S.J.
Mr. Al Litteken
Mrs. Mary V. Longrais
Mr. Paul G. Lorenzini
Rev. Keith F. Muccino, S.J.
Rev. Robert L. Niehoff, S.J.
Mr. Tony Novelly
Dr. Francis O’Donnell, Jr.
Mr. Michael D. O’Keefe
Mr. G. Keith Phoenix
Mr. John K. Pruellage
Mr. Daniel A. Rodrigues
Mr. W. Michael Ross
Mr. James A. Saitz
Mr. Rex A. Sinquefield
Mr. Patrick J. Sly
Mr. James T. Smith
Ms. Martha S. Uhlhorn
Daniel P. White, S.J.

4. Send a letter to editor to the U. News for this week’s edition. And do it quickly as they’re going to be plenty busy this week dealing with this, putting out a paper and getting ready for the approaching final exams.

I ask that all SLU students and alumni contact the univeristy administration immediately to speak out against this injustice. Not an alumni? That is OK, let them know you are member of the community and you want free press to continue on campus. Better yet, tell them you won’t buy a ticket to an event at the new arena if the university siezes control of the student paper.

UPDATE 5/2/2007 @ 8:30pm:

The St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, of which I am a board member, has issued a statement on this issue. Click here to read what area journalists think of this controversy.

 

Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. awb says:

    What do they mean, “Existing debts to the University would have to be paid in full . . .”? Who would pay off the debt? The students? How much are they talking about?

    For a school that just swore they are secular to obtain a TIF for their arena, why are they now worried that the school paper “is expected to uphold the ‘Jesuit Catholic’ mission statement of the University.”? Father Biondi, have you no shame? Be Jesuit Catholic and turn away the TIF money, or live up to the secular description you swore to and leave the paper alone.

     
  2. Dole says:

    I graduated from SLU and strongly disliked the student newspaper.

     
  3. Adam says:

    For a school that just swore they are secular to obtain a TIF for their arena, why are they now worried that the school paper “is expected to uphold the ‘Jesuit Catholic’ mission statement of the University.”?

    EXACTLY!!! the hypocrisy makes me want to [email protected]!#ing puke.

     
  4. Adam says:

    how many times are they going to pull this secular/non-secular bull-shit before people get fed up?

     
  5. Diana Benanti says:

    If anyone wants to send a letter to the editor, please e-mail it to [email protected] or [email protected], or [email protected]. If anyone has questions, feel free to call me at 217.622.4779 or 314.977.1590. Thank you!

     
  6. Nate says:

    Wow.

    Biondi did this b.s. back in 98/99, and received a quick no-confidence vote from the Student Government Association.

    He’s an ass.

     
  7. Craig says:

    SLU pays for the existence of the newspaper doesn’t it? Then it should be able to control the paper. If the current staff doesn’t like it then they should take the option of starting a new publication without university support. The staff can use their own resources to print their stories.

    For the people harping on the Jesuit identity issue, the Mo. Sup. Court’s decision had nothing to do with whether or not SLU currently has a Jesuit mission. The important fact is who controls the board. No order of clerics controls the board and no church controls the board. If the independent board seeks to implement a mission statement based on Jesuit values, that is their choice. It doesn’t mean they are controlled by a particular creed.

     
  8. Adam says:

    “If the independent board seeks to implement a mission statement based on Jesuit values, that is their choice. It doesn’t mean they are controlled by a particular creed.”

    what? it’s a JESUIT-founded institution with JESUITS on the so-called independent board which still and always has claimed a JESUIT mission and is now mandating that the school “newspaper” conform to the JESUIT creed. sooooooooooooo how exactly are they not controlled by a particular creed?

    i agree that they don’t have to fund the newspaper if they don’t want to, but whatever propaganda takes its place needs to say “PROPAGANDA” in really big letters at the top of every issue. but i’m sure they’ll keep selling it – dishonestly – as unbiased media.

     
  9. the wayward wanderer says:

    Craig asked: “SLU pays for the existence of the newspaper doesn’t it?”

    The University News is funded by students who sell ads. Saint Louis University provides space within the Busch Student Center (rent), pays for telephone lines, as well as internet connections.

    Salaries for the ad staff and editor, printing costs, and everything else are paid for by the advertising money.

    -the wanderer

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Exactly!  The university exists because of us students!  The newspaper is for us, not the administration.  Student journalism is an educational experience on campuses everywhere.  This paper also recently won some awards so they’ve been doing a good job according to their peers.    The administration has a likely well-funded marketing staff that issues press releases and other viewpoints.]

     
  10. maurice says:

    I find it interesting that your ‘source close to the situation’ invites their lawyer. What precipitated the need for this?

    How further interesting that Diana B. then posts a comment on here. Coincidence????

    The TIF situatation was private vs public entity. The newspaper is an internal decision.

    I have read the paper for the past 5 years. It is mediocre. Except for the sports, which they do an excellent job at. There was the plagurism scandal, each issue has at least a dozen typos, etc.

    Perhaps its because I’m a bit older then a typical student, but I don’t see that newspaper as all that great. Each issue is ingrained with negativity towards the administration. Perhaps if the writers and editors were more judicial in their writing, this step would not be needed. Many school papers criticize their schools successfully….but when it is hostile just to be hostile, what do you expect to happen.

    Bottom line, it is the University….like it or leave it. Many schools have a second or third independent paper that is successful. Start your own or go to another school…Mizzou has the best journalism school in the country.

    Or use this as a learning lesson as those students prepare to enter a career profession….charters and rules can change.

     
  11. cyr says:

    I only wrote for the U-News for a semester when I was still at SLU back in the mid-90’s. While I wasn’t majorly involved (my writing highlight was a small article about the big blue bus), I remember it being a fun experience. SLU politics has always been a bit crazy, and that’s a big reason why I don’t feel too sad about not finishing my degree there.

    Guess there won’t be any more April Fool’s issues…

     
  12. Jim Zavist says:

    Not really my “fight”, but a couple of observations:

    1. The Golden Rule – He who has the gold, rules. Going off campus may be the only solution if total freedom is what’s desired. Stay on campus and you need to play by their rules.

    2. Relevency – Just how relevent is the print media these days, especially on a college campus? As this blog proves, there are a growing number of outlets to express opinions. Back when I was in college (in the ’70’s) a daily paper was a primary information source for both students and the administration. Now, with the internet and text messaging, I’m not sure how important a campus paper really is, other than as a place for journalism students to hone their writing skills under quasi-real conditions . . .

     
  13. Dole says:

    Jim is right about the relevancy issue. On college campuses today, news is spread much more by technology than by a printed paper. I am a fairly recent college grad, from SLU, and I know I got most of my information by word of mouth from other students and professors, and by technology such as MySpace, Facebook, and Instant Messenger.

    Another issue, pointed out by Maurice, is the aggression of the paper towards the administration. While Biondi-bashing is a popular pastime for many, there are also a large number of people that truly respect what he has done for the school and for Midtown over the past 20 years. Reading the school paper would lead one to believe everybody hates the administration and that is NOT an accurate reflection of the student body.

    I am annoyed by people bringing up the Jesuit creed issue. They might have a valid point about that when it comes to the arena/TIF issue, but leave it out of a discussion of a campus newspaper.

    Finally, why do these students think they have the right to have guaranteed access to distribute their paper on campus and receive funding from the university? Should anybody receive these benefits if they want to start a publication?

     
  14. aninnymouse says:

    It is not just about the UNews reporting “bad press” about the University or administrators. There was a great deal of student misconduct that may include financial mismanagement (like buying personal stuff with UNews funds) as well as inappropriate behavior by the students. This is NOT just a case of Fr. Biondi wanting his way though let’s be clear the paper does serve at the President’s pleasure…however other “things” made the ball start rolling.

     
  15. Erin says:

    Obviously Biondi feels the newspaper is still relevant.

    Typos and inappropriate student behavior? On a college campus? I am aghast! I hope those student journalists fight for their rights. At least they can chalk this up to an early lesson in hypocrisy.

     
  16. Adam says:

    like i said, i agree that the school has no obligation to fund a student newspaper. HOWEVER, if they wish to compare themselves to other (say, public) universities in terms of academic freedom then they had better have a student newspaper that does not censor based on the Jesuit creed. i’m sorry that you’re annoyed but censorship based on creed is, in fact, a relevant issue. otherwise, name the paper “The Weekly Jesuit Slant” and then there’s no confusion. also i don’t see this as just about paper as a vessel for information. what if the next step is censoring student web-pages that don’t conform to the Jesuit creed? (maybe they already do. i don’t know.) the point is, sure they have the right to cut funding to the paper for whatever reason, but IF they censor the peper based on RELIGIOUS ideals and then sell it as an unbiased source THEY ARE LYING (which, by the way, is a sin) and they DO NOT have the right to public funding.

     
  17. the wayward wanderer says:

    Dole said, “Finally, why do these students think they have the right to have guaranteed access to distribute their paper on campus and receive funding from the university? Should anybody receive these benefits if they want to start a publication?”

    it must be noted that every SLU student pays $50.00 per semester toward the “SLU Union.”

    the “SLU Union” is the Busch Student Center. This fee pays for upkeep of the building, its employees, and other things, including internet connections, phone lines, et cetera. it could be argued that the administration pays practically nothing to the unews since ad revenue generates the income that pays for printing cost. oh wait a minute, it could be argued that the administration pays for NOTHING at Saint Louis University because all funding comes from students paying tuition and boosters. there’s a realization for you. the students deserve the control.

     
  18. Margie says:

    Another ugly power grab by another bully catholic.

    The meek shall inherit the earth? Ha. Not if Biondi or Burke have anything to say about it.

     
  19. Adam says:

    i said:
    “…sure they have the right to cut funding to the paper for whatever reason…”
    but based on what wayward wanderer just said they probably DON’T have the right. so i take that back.

     
  20. Diana B. says:

    “It is not just about the UNews reporting “bad press” about the University or administrators. There was a great deal of student misconduct that may include financial mismanagement (like buying personal stuff with UNews funds) as well as inappropriate behavior by the students.”

    boy, you sure are a ninny! the financial mismanagement is an ugly rumor. we trade ads for pizza as a bargaining tool to get students to come write. call that personal gain if you want but we are students, and we are learning how to run a newspaper. the University conducted an internal audit recently and found NO financial mismanagement, except for a falsified time sheet by a student who chose not to work for the paper anymore, but decided he still wanted to get paid. and our general manager caught it that same week; it slipped by the office of student life.

    thanks erin, for sticking up for us.

     
  21. Please forward to those you think might be interested. Avis Meyer is one of the most distinguished minds and individuals ever to set foot on SLUs campus and Biondi is at it again!

    I made it to Webster tonight for the showing of “The Paper”.
    Please forward this to all interested!
    It sounds like SLU is going full steam ahead on the legal case against Dr. Avis Meyer. (http://dockets.justia.com/docket/court-moedce/case_no-4:2007cv01733/case_id-89402/). They seem to be pretty steadfast on making him pay for his temporary ownership of the U. News name.
    Sign this petition:
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/messagetoslu/

    Listen to Avis on the radio if you missed it today:
    http://www.kwmu.org/Programs/Slota/archivedetail.php?showid=2883

    Look for him to be a guest on Ed Bishop’s KDHX program, Reality Now, in the near future:
    http://www.kdhx.org/index.php?option=com_kdhxradio&task=playlist&dothis=latest&show=Reality+Now&Itemid=268

     
  22. Cory says:

    Dole and Maurice are idiots. Plain and simple. Mizzou doesn’t have anything the U-News. Like the “much older” you are, it is incredible that you are so ignorant. The Maneater is crap. Riddled with crappy columns, porn-comics, etc. I think you’re thinking of the Graduate School paper… and when I last check, Northwestern was the best Journalism school. I bet “dole” was one of the young republicans who ran for student government and the U-News chose not to endorse him, so he posts his vomit on here. And… once again… the students who worked at the paper are the paper and the only money provided by SLU is the office space the U-News uses.

    If you don’t know anything, don’t post anything.

    [slp — attack the thoughts not the individuals.] 

     

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