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Groups may pull support from HU: Student paper conflict puts some grants at risk

Oct. 24, 2003

By Elena Gaona
Daily Press
Newport News, Va.

HAMPTON — At least two grant sources to Hampton University’s journalism school are questioning whether to give money to the school in the future, some media officials said Thursday.

The doubts come after a decision by the university’s administration to confiscate the latest edition of the student newspaper because stories didn’t run the way HU’s acting president wanted.

Acting President and Provost JoAnn Haysbert wanted a letter she wrote about cafeteria health code violations at the university to run on the front page in this week’s homecoming issue, students said. When student staff members of the Hampton Script ran a story of their own about the cafeteria on the front instead, the administration confiscated the newspaper.

"We are gravely concerned about the acting president’s decision," said Jeff Cohen, editor of the Houston Chronicle and chairman of the high school journalism committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, a group that has given money to the journalism school.

"We believe that ASNE projects should go to institutions that respect the First Amendment," Cohen said. "If you don’t believe in it, you certainly can’t teach it."

The ASNE group this month announced $55,000 in grants to HU’s journalism school so they can train high school journalism teachers in the summer. But future funding is not certain, Cohen said.

Although the group "had been pleased with the performance of Hampton," Cohen said ASNE will "re-evaluate funding projects at institutions that are hostile to free speech."

The Knight Foundation, which gives money to ASNE and could also fund other projects at HU, is also questioning the legitimacy of how the university is teaching journalism, said Chris Campbell, director of the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

The foundation’s stance is that "it’s hard to build a relationship with a school that’s confiscating the student newspaper," Campbell said.

The reservations from other media professionals and journalism organizations, especially those that help fund programs at the school, could jeopardize what HU is trying to accomplish, Campbell said. The school opened last fall with millions from the Scripps Howard Foundation, whose director told Campbell in an e-mail that she supports the students’ decision.

The Scripps Howard Foundation has not made a public statement about the controversy.

University officials say they want the school to be one of the top journalism schools in the country and one that will help diversify the field.

Although the newspaper’s operation is not directed by the journalism school, HU’s decision about the student-run Hampton Script casts a shadow on the entire school, Campbell and others said.

"This is fair, balanced, accurate journalism," Campbell said. "It’s conflicting with the university culture, and until the culture changes, we can’t have a great school of journalism."

Haysbert declined to answer questions this week, citing a statement she would release explaining the week’s events and "delay" of the publication. The statement had not been released by late Thursday.

Hampton Script editor Talia Buford said the student newspaper staff is trying to decide "where to go from here." The staff met with school officials and each other Thursday.

Students must decide whether to keep fighting the release of a homecoming issue or focus on next week’s newspaper.

At least one student has made up her mind.

Senior broadcast major Jameil Hamilton said she chose journalism to help change the way the media depicts people of color. She does not work for the newspaper, but circulated a petition on campus Thursday, seeking 500 signatures by today so she could ask the acting president for the "release of the paper."

She wants the original homecoming issue to get out. And so do other outraged students who signed the petition, she said.

"I was just angry because I felt like people weren’t listening to us," Hamilton said.

Hamilton collected about 100 signatures in an hour, and said she checked the university code of conduct to make sure she wasn’t breaking any rules because she did not want to get suspended or expelled.

"My mother," a Hampton graduate, "told me to be careful and ‘don’t get kicked out of school.’"

The fear of free speech on campus is what most worries Pearl Stewart, a director of career services at the Florida A&M University journalism department. Stewart was at HU last week listening to veteran journalists through a fellowship from The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

"I was very disappointed," said Stewart who chairs the board of the Black College Communication Association which is made up of historically black universities with media departments.

Dozens of black journalists posting on the National Association of Black Journalists listserv are "upset and concerned" that students at black colleges and universities are often not allowed to practice serious journalism at their schools, said Wayne Dawkins, a longtime member of NABJ. Dawkins, a contributing editor to blackjournalist.com, an online media bulletin on the industry, is also a former member of the editorial board of the Daily Press.

At black colleges, journalism students are often discouraged from covering bad news, Stewart and Dawkins said. But those students will leave the school and practice journalism in the real world, Stewart and others said.

"It really defies reason you would say to these young adults, at a university, that they are not free to speak," Stewart said. "It could affect the success of the journalism school, although I truly hope not."

Copyright © 2003, Daily Press. Reprinted with permission.