Another Year, Another Press Freedom Incident at CNM

February 27th, 2014 · No Comments · Education, journalism, labor

By Denise Tessier

It’s been almost a year since the last incident. And now, we have reports of another misstep by Central New Mexico Community College with regard to its school newspaper, the CNM Chronicle, and student freedom of the press.

Kudos to the Albuquerque Journal for covering it.

Last year, CNM pulled copies of the student newspaper off the racks because it contained advice of a sexual nature – and the administration was pretty much slammed with criticism for the action, including by ABQJournalWatch.

This time, the administration is less direct in leashing its student newspaper, accused this time of silencing CNM faculty by having them sign contracts that forbid use of “College resources” to further certain types of speech, specifically with regard to unions.

In the Journal story, “CNM accused of trying to muzzle faculty,” reporter Mike Bush wrote:

During faculty contract negotiations last year, Central New Mexico Community College proposed language that would have banned college resources – including the school newspaper – from being used to discuss “union business of any type.”

According to the story, the proposed contract language included a line specifically clarifying that faculty who sign contracts “acknowledge that the CNM Chronicle (the student newspaper) is a College resource.”

Bush’s story said that during the negotiations, “a compromise was reached, and the specific reference to the school newspaper, the CNM Chronicle, was removed,” and:

In the full-time faculty contract, the final language reads: “College resources shall not be used for any political campaign for an individual candidate or an organization. College resources shall not be used for any union activity, including but not limited to political issues or a campaign for an individual candidate or an organization, unless specifically authorized elsewhere in this Agreement.”

The language in the contract ratified by part-time faculty is similar, but refers to “College student media.”

CNM President Katharine Winograd issued a statement to the Journal, which, according to the story, said:

CNM, of course, would not interfere in a CNM faculty or staff member’s right to exercise their freedom of speech. . .

But the faculty, according to a Chronicle staffer, is curtailing its speech anyway, fostered by what the staffer called a “culture of fear.” Jonathan Baca, a Chronicle reporter, photographer and chief copy editor, wrote Bush, saying:

In the process of researching several stories this year, I have run into the issue of faculty and staff that have had complaints about the administration, but who are unwilling to go on record for fear of reprisal.

Bush’s story also reported that:

In a later interview, (Baca) said other Chronicle reporters have run into the same situation, an allegation supported by at least one other reporter. “We have also known of several instances where faculty and staff have been retaliated against, either directly or indirectly, for speaking to our reporters, and we have heard from several staff members who have told us that they have been told by their superiors that they are not allowed to speak to Chronicle staff about anything, under any circumstances.”

CNM denied the accusations, saying it “refutes any claims of retaliation for a CNM employee giving interviews to the CNM Chronicle.” The CNM statement also said a goal of contract negotiations was to “promote harmonious relations” and that neither side should try to use the Chronicle as a platform to influence the outcome of labor disputes.

But as Bush’s story pointed out:

The majority of CNM’s faculty members are part-timers who work on contracts that are renewed annually. Anyone who angers the administration runs the risk of not having a contract renewed, according to (Seamus) O’Sullivan and other part-time faculty members.

The student-run paper is funded by CNM and has a faculty adviser.

As Marisa DeMarco pointed out in her New Mexico Compass editorial last year, after issues of the Chronicle were pulled, colleges are limited in their ability to censor, regardless of where the newspaper’s funding comes from. “As the Supreme Court once said: ‘Students do not shed their constitutional rights … at the schoolhouse gate.’”

CNM might deny it, but from what the student journalists are telling Bush, it looks like CNM’s administration might have found a way around those limits.

The result is the same. It’s stifling free speech – and stifling the ability of student journalists to produce and report on it.

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