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U of North Alabama Censured Over Free Press Issues

November 27, 2018
 
 

The College Media Association has censured the University of North Alabama after administrators there allegedly fired the adviser of the student newspaper over a negative story it published.

The Flor-Ala newspaper ran a story in September about being denied personnel records of two employees, one of whom has resigned from the university. David Shields, former vice president of student affairs, left in July, and Gregory Gaston, a professor, is not allowed on the campus grounds.

A week after the story published, administrators met with student journalists and the newspaper's adviser, Scott Morris, according to the association. Morris and the students characterized Provost Ross Alexander as “angry” and “frustrated.”

Later that month, Morris was told the provost would be eliminating his job and replacing it with a tenure-track faculty position that required a doctorate, which would result in Morris, a longtime journalist without the credential, being fired.

The association said that administrators could not provide any proof that they were considering changing Morris’s position prior to the newspaper publishing its report. The university also sent out a reminder to professors and other staffers of the institution's rules, which suggest that officials should not speak to the media unless an administrator vets the inquiry beforehand.

"If college officials decided to remove the adviser as punishment for something that students published, then that reeks of retaliation for Constitutionally-protected student speech," Chris Evans, association president, said in a statement. The association represents more than 600 college newspaper advisers.

The university said in a statement via spokesman Bryan Rachal that the association's actions are "unwarranted, outside the scope of its authority, and inconsistent with its own investigation."

The statement said that the university has been considering since late 2014 upgrading the advising position to a tenure-track faculty job and the university provided the association with information that confirmed that timeline.

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