CMA opposes removal of adviser from West Virginia

The College Media Association is deeply concerned about the removal of Michael Kelley, the adviser to The Columns, the student newspaper at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. It joins the Society of Professional Journalists and the Student Press Law Center in the belief that his removal and university officials’ attempts to censor the paper constitute violations of the First Amendment.

While Kelley is not a member of CMA, the association strongly believes in freedom of the press and has written a letter encouraging the Fairmont State University Board of Governors to uphold the students’ free press rights by reappointing Kelley and allowing student journalists to do their job without interference from campus officials.

According to reporting by the Student Press Law Center, Columbia Journalism Review, WDTV, and College Media Matters, Kelley’s employment contract was not renewed after The Columns published investigative articles about potentially harmful mold in campus residences. The story was picked up by WBOY-TV Channel 12 and put the university in an unflattering light.

In a letter to the Fairmont State University Board of Trustees, the staff of The Columns said university officials had also bullied student journalists and threatened to stop publication of the newspaper.

The CMA Code of Ethical Behavior states: “Student media must be free from all forms of external interference designed to regulate its content, including confiscation of its products or broadcasts; suspension of publication or transmission; academic personal or budgetary sanctions; arbitrary removal of staff members or faculty; or threats to the existence of student publications or broadcast outlets. In public institutions, the law is quite clear on guaranteeing broad freedom of expression to the students.”

“Intimidating student journalists, threatening to cease publication and dismissing a student newspaper adviser are all tactics that impede the free flow of information and violate the principles of the First Amendment,” said CMA President Rachele Kanigel. “No school should get away with this kind of censorship and retaliation, especially a state university. Students should be able to report without interference – even if the news is not what university officials want to read.”

The College Media Association represents more than 700 college media advisers, and their students, throughout the country and supports a free and robust student press.

CONTACT: Rachele Kanigel, CMA President, 415 338-3134 (PDT), Kanigel@sfsu.edu