The surprise departure of the longtime general manager of Emory University’s student newspaper has journalists there accusing administration officials of trying to assert more control over the twice-weekly paper’s operations.
On Wednesday, Karen Salisbury, assistant dean for campus life and director of student activities at Emory, sent an e-mail to the editor of the Emory Wheel, Geoff Pallay, indicating that Eileen Smith had resigned her position as the paper’s general manager. In that position, Smith helped students garner advertising revenue to fund the operations of the paper.
“I expect that you may want a statement for the paper and also that you may have questions (both from a journalistic standpoint and as a practical matter) about what steps will be taken and when to go about finding a replacement for Eileen,” Salisbury said in the e-mail. “I'm not sure what those answers are just yet.… I'm sure you understand that as a personnel issue all information is confidential, and I am not at liberty to speak to you or anyone else about any details of this matter.” Salisbury was unavailable to elaborate on her comments for this article.
Pallay was incredulous. “I talked to Eileen the day before and everything was fine,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “She talked about being in the office the rest of the week.”
Smith had also recently moved to a house closer to Emory’s campus, and she e-mailed several current and former newspaper staff members to share the news of her departure. She declined to comment for this article. Her daughter indicated that she is seeking legal advice about her situation.
According to Andrew Ackerman, a former editor with the paper who’s now a reporter for The Bond Buyer, a trade newspaper in Washington, D.C., Salisbury and other administration officials have been systematically working to achieve more control over the newspaper. In recent years, he said Salisbury “threatened to shut the paper down,” due to ideological problems with certain ads that crossed Smith’s desk. A series of ads paid for by a group called In Defense of Animals, which portrayed dead felines, was one instance that Ackerman recalled causing trouble during his tenure.
Smith’s salary, which was in the mid-$30,000 range, was paid through funds generated from the paper’s ad revenue -- another reason why Pallay believes he deserves more information about her resignation.
“This has all basically undermined the current editor in chief,” said Ackerman. “The university shouldn’t have any business in running the day-to-day operations of the paper.”
Because the Emory Wheel is not independent -- the students depend on free office space from the university -- some members of the editorial staff are growing increasingly apprehensive about their status.
Bridget Guernsey Riordan, assistant vice president for campus life, said that she would support the idea of the paper becoming independent, so that students would have more leeway in their reporting. “More schools like ours are not having control over student newspapers because they want freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” she said. “Of course, becoming independent would mean giving up the free rental space.”
Going forward, Pallay has more immediate concerns, like figuring out how to replace an experienced general manager, while balancing a strained relationship with certain university officials. “My job was just made a thousand times more complicated -- and I can’t do a whole lot about it,” he said. “It’s my job to get answers, but they just aren’t offering any.”