Speaking out

Sep 262007
Authors: Erik Myers, Ricki Dugdale

The Board of Student Communication (BSC) held a public opinion meeting Tuesday night in the Plant Science Building in light of the Collegian’s Sept. 21 editorial content.

Protestors began early by carrying signs in support of and against Editor-in-Chief J. David McSwane inside and outside of the building.

At 7 p.m., the meeting commenced with nine board members present and a room packet with students, community members and CSU faculty.

“What we are doing is listening to people,” said Jim Landers, a journalism professor and a BSC board member. “We have 19 people who wish to speak in support of the editorial. We have 12 people who wish to speak opposing the editorial.”

A fact-finding session was held in which McSwane and Director of Student Media Jeff Browne answered questions from the board regarding their involvement and the decision-making process in running the controversial editorial.

“We decided to run the “F*** Bush” editorial after we, as students, came together as an editorial board and felt very strongly that the incident at the University of Florida was something that students should be talking about,” McSwane said. “We felt that CSU and the CSU campus as a whole was largely apathetic and we wanted to facilitate a debate about free speech.”

“We felt the best way to do that instead of writing a 250 word editorial as we usually do was go ahead and exercise our rights,” McSwane said.

Board members also addressed McSwane’s views on the Rocky Mountain Collegian Code of Ethics, which states, “Profane and vulgar words are not acceptable for opinion writing.”

“I was familiar with that (Code of Ethics),” McSwane said. “We took a look at that and we felt that the policy earlier, toward the beginning of that document, which states profanity can’t be banned or anything, made more of a statement than not acceptable.”

The BSC bylaws state that the university cannot “censor or punish the occasional use of indecent, vulgar or so called ‘four letter words’ in student publications.”

Supporting his decision to run the editorial, McSwane stated that the editorial was not about a mission of the Collegian, but rather students writing to students in response to events that they are seeing across the nation.

“We did not do this setting out to make headline,” McSwane said. “It was to get CSU students, college students, thinking about issues that effect them.”

Despite coming under the BSC’s slew of questions, McSwane did have support of students, faculty and community members alike.

“”If we remove David McSwane or punish the staff that he works with, then we would be acknowledging that they are limiting this press of ours and acknowledging that the unalienable rights contained within the first amendment are not so,” said Joe Howard, a freshman political science major. “This is a case where a group of progressive minded students choose to fight to bring the campus to their feet, to open their eyes, to speak out, to speak for their first amendment and to fight for what they believe in.”

Graduate student Kristopher Hite also showed his support by getting over 750 signatures supporting McSwane and his expression of his first amendment right. He also spoke out support of McSwane.

“In 1999, the then Governor, George W. Bush, had an interview with Tucker Carlson in this magazine called Top magazine, which he was being interviewed about corporal punishment. In that magazine George W. Bush, was quoted in saying the f-word three times in the first paragraph of that interview. So anybody who says this word is profane and vulgar, I agree with you and I agree that an editor of a college newspaper should not be held to any higher standard than the president of the U.S.,” Hite said.

Journalism professor Pam Jackson also voiced her support at the meeting.

“Free speech isn’t free unless it offends someone, otherwise it doesn’t need the protection of the first amendment,” Jackson said. “I’ve been offended by free speech on this campus every spring when I walk across the student plaza and the plaza is plastered with extremely graphic billboard-sized posters of aborted fetuses that I cannot avoid. It is free speech and right or wrong that group feels that such a shocking, offensive method is necessary to get its point across, same as the Collegian editorial board last Friday.”

Those supporting McSwane’s resignation also included staff of the Collegian.

Lenay Snyder, the Collegian’s advertising manager, said the editoral had put incredible strain on the members of her staff, who had constantly worked in fully funding the paper. She predicted that if the paper continued to lose advertising, it would become a smaller paper, and would be forced to fire staff members.

“Dave’s job was to not only decide editorial content but to preserve the financial well-being of our paper. He failed.” Snyder said.

Snyder said that the damage caused by the editorial would affect Student Media’s latest addition, College Avenue, which pulled a significant percentage of it’s funds from the money made by Collegian advertising.

Chelsey Penoyer, College Republicans chairman, presented a petition asking for McSwane’s resignation, containing 500 signatures of students, faculty and community members.

Fort Collins resident Ed Haynes said that there were specific limits as to what could be published, giving one example using a word he found extremely offensive himself.

“I want Mr. McSwane and the members of this board to consider what the reaction would’ve been had this editorial been: ‘Taser this.Obama is a n*****.'” Haynes said. “My guess is he would’ve never printed that. I ask you to consider the impact had been a different word other than the word that was used and I thank you for your consideration.”

Also to be considered, according to ASCSU’s director of legislative affairs Luke Ragland, was the effect the editorial could have on higher education funding in Colorado, as legislators would bring such an incident up in their discussions.

“You hear a lot of crazy stuff that’s not relative to funding, but it does get brought up. This is reality.” Ragland said.

James Landers, technical journalism professor and interim head of the BSC, said the group would meet in the morning to discuss whether the complaints presented held merit.

If so, the board would then decide whether to hold an informal or formal hearing. A minor punishment would be dealt out in an informal hearing, while a formal hearing would consider a severe punishment, such as dismissal. Landers said the board would attempt to have completed the entire process within three to five days following today’s session.

Senior reporters Ricki Dugdale and Erik Myers can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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