Al Cross, SPJ President, 502/648-8433 or email@example.com
Jim Highland, SPJ Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs, 270/784-8853 or firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is demanding that the University of Texas at Tyler renew the contract of campus newspaper adviser Vanessa Curry if university officials cannot adequately explain why they refused to continue her contract.
Curry, an SPJ member who serves as adviser to The Patriot campus newspaper and as a journalism lecturer at the university, has said that she believes her contract was not renewed because the newspaper has been too aggressive in its coverage and in filing open records requests.
“This strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment as it is practiced on university and college campuses throughout the nation,” said SPJ Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs Jim Highland, director of print journalism at Western Kentucky University. “University presidents, by their very nature, function as public-relations agents, and that is not necessarily in the best interest of the public and the students. The newspaper serves as the only real watchdog on the university administration, and the newspaper adviser apparently was fired because the newspaper was doing its job.”
Curry, whose tenure as adviser produced several awards for the newspaper, is considering legal action against the university for eliminating her job and unveiling new policies that would violate constitutional protections of free speech. The university recently announced that its publications policy allows university administrators to decide “the character and policies of all student publications.”
Mabry, in a letter replying to an April 24 letter from SPJ leaders, denied that university officials wanted to control content of the newspaper and that Curry was the victim of retribution.
“We have not commented on any reasons for not offering Ms. Curry some future contract,” he wrote. “These are inferred reasons, and I strongly assert that the inferences drawn by others are completely wrong.”
Mabry added, “I do not mind aggressive student reporters at all, but wonder, in the first place, if they have been all that aggressive in getting their stories. I actually have not seen the current group very often (until this issue arose). Furthermore, I am comfortable enough as a person and as a president – and also certain we run an above-the-board shop – such that I don’t worry about student articles (particularly since the vast majority have been favorable.”
SPJ leaders said the university should be more forthcoming about its reasons for not rehiring Curry because the circumstances surrounding the episode are suspicious.
“There is abundant evidence, albeit circumstantial, that she was sacked because the paper was aggressive,” said SPJ President Al Cross, political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. “And even if there were other reasons, the administration should have tried to work out things rather than sending the message that students who question the administration are subject to retribution.”
Highland said, “I take this very seriously, having faced this problem on our campus several years ago. I can understand the problem the adviser is having. I will recommend at Saturday’s meeting of the SPJ Board of Directors that we appoint a task force to visit the University of Texas at Tyler, make findings of fact, and make those findings available to the public.”
Journalists or advocates who wish to support Curry’s argument may contact University President Rodney H. Mabry at University of Texas at Tyler, 3900 University Blvd., Tyler, TX 75799 or at 903/566-7119.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.