Prof ousted as N. Michigan student newspaper adviser

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

A professor who helped transform the student newspaper at Northern Michigan University, leading to tension with campus administrators, has been ousted as its adviser.

A student-led board that oversees the North Wind voted 5-3 Friday against Cheryl Reed’s return as the paper’s adviser next semester.

The board also rejected the paper’s sole nominee for editor-in-chief next semester by a 5-4 margin.

The newspaper and board have been bumping heads for several months over the paper’s newfound aggression under Reed, who was hired in August as an assistant professor of English.

The North Wind has taken a critical look at subjects ranging from the price of textbooks at the university bookstore to the number of sexual assaults on campus to spending on travel by the school’s board of trustees.

Reed, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, said the board was overstepping its bounds by interfering with the paper’s operation.

“No one on the board knows anything about news,” she said Tuesday. “In my opinion, they need to read the First Amendment.”

Reed said the board had become increasingly unhappy with her for defending the staff’s filing of public records requests with the university, and for criticizing the board publicly for its lack of support of those efforts.

“I’m supposed to defend my students,” she said. “Doing my job is not a reason to fire me.”

But a member of the board who voted against Reed said he wasn’t trying to interfere in the running of the paper.

Eric Laksonen, a senior who majors in economics, said Reed continuously deflected the board whenever it raised concerns about accuracy, bias or sensationalism.

“We’ve had an awful year,” he said. “(Board) meetings are a terrible work environment.”

Another board member, Chairwoman Aubrey Kall, a senior, said she thought Reed became too involved in the running of the paper.

“I want an adviser who empowers the staff and gives them the tools to succeed, not one who fights their battles for them,” she wrote in an email.

The paper’s managing editor, Michael Williams, who was rejected for the editor-in-chief spot, said the board had already made up its mind before interviewing him at the Friday meeting.

“It was a kangaroo court,” he said. “These are people who don’t have any training in free speech.”

Williams said he wasn’t allowed to discuss the reasons for his rejection because they were given during an executive session of the board.

But Reed said the board didn’t like Williams because he supports the aggressive nature of the paper.

As for the vote on the adviser, Reed said the board may have violated its own bylaws by failing to receive input from the newspaper staff.

The bylaws say the adviser should be selected annually with the approval of the board and editorial staff.

Reed said she was talking to an attorney about possible legal options.

The Society of Professional Journalists said the board’s actions with Reed and Williams violated First Amendment principles by interfering with the running of the paper.

“Boards that oversee student media must avoid any hint of censorship,” SPJ’s national president, Dana Neuts, said in a statement.

She called on the board to rescind its rejection of both Reed and Williams.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell