Ganging Up on a Student Journalist?

LIU Post student government association demands that President Kimberly Cline and the other officials publicly apologize for berating a co-editor of the student newspaper for its coverage of anonymous pamphlets targeting Cline and others.

December 11, 2018
 
Cover image of a recent edition of the LIU Post student newspaper

The student government association at Long Island University’s Post campus is demanding an apology from President Kimberly Cline and members of her administration after a co-editor of LIU’s student newspaper said several officials turned a routine interview into a confrontation over the newspaper’s coverage.

Co-editor Jada Butler wrote that she had scheduled an interview with a Board of Trustees member who had been the subject of previous coverage, as well as with Michael Berthel, an LIU dean, and Gordon Tepper, LIU’s public relations director. Butler said that when she and a reporter arrived for the meeting, the trustee wasn’t there. Instead, Berthel and Tepper were joined via telephone by the university counsel, Michael Best.

Butler said Tepper and Best spent the first 20 or so minutes of the meeting “berating” the newspaper for covering a series of anonymous pamphlets that have been distributed campuswide this fall, criticizing Cline, among others, for staff cuts and changes to sports programs. Butler also spoke to Inside Higher Ed last month about the pamphlets.

“They never told us not to publish anything,” Butler wrote, “rather they speculated about our reasoning behind covering these pamphlets.” She said Tepper and Best “believed we were wrong for covering what they called falsehoods and details they said were exaggerated.” The newspaper had fact-checked the memos, Butler said, but the officials put her in the “awkward position” of having to defend her work at what was supposed to be an interview.

Tepper did not respond to requests for comment.

The student association last week demanded that Cline and the other officials make “written, public apologies” for the incident. It also asked for a written statement from Cline and LIU’s Board of Trustees “guaranteeing free speech throughout the university for all students, staff, and faculty” at LIU’s Post campus.

It set a deadline of Dec. 10 for publication of the notices, threatening that if “sufficient apologies” aren’t made, the group would “use the LIU Post network of students to make the entire country aware of your administration’s abuses.” The group said it would “let high school students everywhere know that LIU Post is the place to come only if you do not like thinking for yourself.”

In a letter sent to the student government association and shared with Inside Higher Ed, Cline said LIU “fully embraces the guaranteed right to freedom of speech, and is committed to upholding and encouraging open and constructive dialogue. We value all perspectives of our students, faculty and community, and we understand and respect that good people and bright minds may differ.”

But she said anonymous letters “eliminate the ability to speak openly and respectfully about our differences, with the give-and-take necessary to separate fact from opinions and emotion.” She also said the university “would never seek to silence dissenting perspectives -- even in cases where an opinion might be at odds with the policies of the university. But differing opinions must nonetheless be voiced respectfully, without misleading information, hyperbole or threats.”

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