College, students at odds over newspaper

NASHUA – Students working for Nashua Community College’s student newspaper are questioning their control over the paper after college administrators halted the publication of last month’s issue.

“I don’t feel comfortable that it’s student-run,” said Amelia Comolli, student editor of Community Voice. “Right now, I feel like we have to censor everything we want to say.”

Community Voice is a newspaper run by students at the college. The March edition was put on hold after administrators raised concern about some of its content, Comolli said.

The paper was finished by the students, but never published. The plan is to combine the March and April editions into a final spring edition, Comolli said.

Administrators expect to review that edition before it goes to print, a practice free-speech advocates say is akin to censorship.

Lucille Jordan, president of the college, said she reviewed the March edition of the paper in draft form and was involved in the decision to halt its publication. The vice president may also review the next edition of the paper before it’s published, she said.

“The draft is only seen for accuracy, not for content of the articles,” she said.

Jordan said she doesn’t have a problem with the overall content of the newspaper, “As long as they are respectful, are factual and they don’t disparage people.”

Yet in a series of e-mails provided by Tom Dunn, who was removed as adviser of the paper last month, Pat Goodman, vice president of Student Services, told him the March issue of the paper needed to be put on hold and cited several issues with the content of the paper.

“We have serious concerns about the newspaper,” Goodman wrote.

One item that was singled out was a piece of advice that Comolli, using the pseudonym Mia, gave to a student in an advice column.

A student asked where they could eat on campus and Comolli responded that while teachers aren’t supposed to let you eat in class, “I’d take advantage of it if they say it’s okay.””I don’t think the last sentence in the last answer is appropriate,” Goodman wrote to Dunn.

Goodman said Thursday that she wasn’t giving a directive to Dunn to remove the comment in the advice column, only suggesting that it wasn’t appropriate.

Goodman said Dunn had always sent drafts of the paper to administrators before it went to print for review. She said the paper wasn’t published because of the numerous spelling and factual errors it contained.

Jordan said administrators became involved with the paper because of concerns about plagiarism in one of the paper’s editorials.

“There was a controversial article, but that was never the issue,” Jordan said.

Jordan said someone on the staff of the paper brought the alleged plagiarism to the administrators’ attention. The student editor of the paper and author of the editorial, Sean Townsend, was removed from the paper, but Jordan said that decision also involved members of the Student Senate.

“It wasn’t just the administrators,” she said. “As an educational leader, I cannot allow something that is plagiarized to be out there.”

Jordan said she couldn’t discuss why Dunn was removed as an adviser to the paper because it’s a personnel matter. He still works for the college, she said.

Dunn said he was unsure why he was removed as adviser, a position he held since the paper started. Administrators had never prevented publication of the paper before, he said.

“It was the first time in three years they haven’t let us go to press,” he said.

Halting publication of a student newspaper at a public college runs counter to decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court, said Frank LoMonte, a lawyer and executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

Public college administration can only step in under the most extreme circumstances, he said.

“The school can only step in when the students are threatening a substantial disruption of the school to do its business,” he said.

The courts have been clear that at the college level, the students running the paper are the decision makers and they get to make judgments as long as they’re operating in the bounds of the law, he said.

“Prior approval is tantamount to censorship,” he said. “It may be sold as a way to protect the interests of the school, but it is invariably abused because school administrators are not trained editors.”

There are different standards for high school newspapers and student newspapers at private colleges and universities, he said.

The student newspaper is paid for with public finds provided by the Student Senate.

Comolli said she thought the administrative oversight was in response to an article in the January edition about gambling that caused a stir on campus.

“Before that, they hadn’t really cared or said anything about what we were writing,” she said. “After the gambling article came out, it drew attention to the paper.”

In January, the paper published a first-person narrative written by student Hillary Wells about a trip to Mohegan Sun. In the article, Wells described some people she saw as “zombie-like old folks,” and mentioned “an inordinate number of foreigners.”

Jordan said she had issues with the gambling article, but said the newspaper has to be able to learn from its mistakes.

“There was some angst over that among the whole college community,” she said. “Not with the content, but with how certain groups were portrayed.”

The gambling article prompted the paper to receive several letters to the editor critical of the piece, which were going to be published in the March edition. This would have been the paper’s first opinion section.

Dunn had written an introduction to the opinion section and a response to the gambling article, acknowledging there were some on the staff who didn’t want it published.

Comolli said administrators wanted Dunn’s commentary removed from the paper.

Although Jordan and Goodman insist the paper is still run by the students, some aren’t convinced.

Student Mete Tanyeri had been writing for the paper for two years, but said he has quit in protest since administration has become involved. He wrote primarily game and book reviews.

“To me, it’s for the people, by the people,” he said. “It shouldn’t be run by administration.”

Comolli said she’s hopeful they’ll be able to get the last issue out, but after that, she’s uncertain about the future of the paper.

“I’m not really sure where the newspaper is going after that,” she said. “I was excited to see where it would be going next year. I’m not sure who is going to be the supervisor for the newspaper.”