HUMANISM V. LEADERSHIP

A brilliant letter from Alisa Slaughter to the Redlands Facts. Asks the necessary questions:

Jan. 28, 2014

To the Editor,

“Quality” has been evoked as the basis for the recent shutdown of the student newspaper at the University ofRedlands. Like many other contested abstractions, such as “entrepreneurial,” the concept of “quality” gains its specificity from discussion and critique. This educational process has been replaced by an upbeat variety of institutional martial law, with those of us who support free speech left feeling that we must be very cautious, lest we further antagonize those whocontrol the money and the process.
The reality that student journalists face at the University of Redlands is this: there is no definition of “quality,” or any other procedure or protection in the student governance organization that rules over them, and upon which they must report – a dangerous conflict. The meager bylaws that refer to the newspaper address the annual selection of an editor, and observe that the newspaper’s budget is provided out of ASUR funds, with no amount specified. Any other support, criticism, or consequence has been ad hoc and arbitrary for several years. At our peer institutions, student newspapers have much better structural support, which in most casesdoes not require a formal journalism curriculum to achieve. At Redlands, valuable co-curricular endeavors, such as athletics, outdoor programs, and community service learning, receive extremely high-quality institutional support and are not folded into student government or reliant on a dedicated curriculum.
Despite the university’s neglect of its paper, we have over the past several years had many very good editors and staffs, some of whom have gone on to careers in journalism, the law, publicpolicy, and other useful fields. Alumni who have contacted me report that the freedom to negotiate the occasional rough patch was part of their growth. Will the “high-quality” publication envisioned by the university, whose public-relations apparatus has been activated in support of the shut-down, include that kind of freedom? 
The current student government and editors have been given an all-but-exclusive mandate to define and transform the newspaper’s search for “quality,” with some help from faculty and administrators who volunteered for the committee. The expectation may be unfair, and the task will certainly be difficult and slow to achieve without training, expertise, and a deeper commitment from other areas of campus. In the meantime, there is no newspaper to report on the process, or on the many other important events that have happened on campus this month. Given the unnecessary structural weakness that we have allowed to continue for several years, it is disingenuous for anyone to blame the student government, the student journalists, and, indirectly, the advisor, for this predicament. 
It is my judgment, as a former journalist and longtime mentor to Bulldog editors and writers, that nothing published in the newspaper merited so extreme a measure as total shutdown, which has left the entire staff without their salaries and opportunity to develop professional skills. The newspaper needs a better corrections policy, better institutional support, and better protection from its “leadership” (another provocative abstraction!) – not necessarily in that order.

Sincerely, 
Alisa Slaughter
Associate Professor and Chair
Creative Writing

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