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Ashland University accused of 'assaulting' press freedom after dismissing journalism professor

A photo of an editorial in The Collegian, Ashland University's student newspaper, that the editor wrote describing recent issues the newspaper has had with university administration.
Katelyn Meeks
A photo of an editorial in The Collegian, Ashland University's student newspaper, that the managing editor wrote describing recent issues the newspaper has had with university administration.

A national free-speech group is criticizing Ashland University for what it calls "assaults on freedom of the press" after it said the university dismissed the adviser of its student newspaper and demanded the paper submit stories to campus officials for review before publication.

On Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonpartisan organization focused on issues of free speech, released a statement alleging the student newspaper's adviser Ted Daniels was notified last month his contract to teach journalism and serve as The Collegian’s adviser would not be renewed.

Daniels, when reached Tuesday, said he was told he was let go because his "investigative approach to journalism was detrimental to the university" and that the student reporters were "overly persistent" in their attempts to schedule an appointment with Ashland University's president.

In February, the university's provost requested that The Collegian provide advance copies of stories where faculty or administrators were quoted to ensure "accuracy" in the stories, Daniels said. He said he declined that request.

Days after Daniels was let go, a university official notified The Collegian that it must seek official review of its content before publishing, according to FIRE.

In early September, FIRE sent a letter directly to the private Christian university expressing concern that “prior review” is “often a first step toward prior restraint, the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on expressive freedoms.”

That policy is not an attempt to stifle speech, University President Carlos Campo said in a statement to FIRE.

"We welcome objective, investigative journalism now as much as ever," he wrote.

On Tuesday, a university spokesperson said the review of the articles will only be conducted by the newspaper's faculty adviser. The new adviser will be Dillon Carr, a reporter at the Richland Source news outlet, said spokesperson Hugh Howard.

Initially, the paper was told the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences would be reviewing the articles, said The Collegiate's Managing Editor Katelyn Meeks. Campo referred to "decanal oversight" — decanal refers to a dean — in his communication with FIRE, posted on the group's website.

That's no longer the case, said Howard.

"Ashland University requires The Collegian to submit articles to the faculty adviser for its print edition only for review of grammar and accuracy," Howard wrote (emphasis Howard's). "No news stories or editorials will require approval for content, and no administrative review will occur. They will only be reviewed for grammar and accuracy due to a series of recent errors."

Those errors included a story in which the wrong director was listed for a program at the university and a misspelled word in a headline about a new library café, Howard said.

The paper corrected the wrong director's name as soon as it was informed and printed a correction, which is standard newspaper practice, said Meeks, who said she wasn't aware of any error related to the library café story.

Meeks said all of the recent actions have been dispiriting for students, but added they're still committed to pursuing the truth.

"It kind of just took (away) some of their gusto in really pursuing stories going forward, which is heartbreaking to see because everybody felt so defeated," she said.

FIRE is calling on the university to “publicly commit to refrain from any adverse action against The Collegian’s new adviser or student journalists and should also publicly assure all faculty — including adjunct instructors — that they enjoy full academic freedom free from official retaliation,” according to the media release.

Campo, the university president, said in his letter to FIRE that he's committed to an open dialogue on campus, recently sitting down for an interview for a student podcast.

"We feel certain that Ashland University will continue to uphold the principles of free expression as we always have, and welcome our continued dialogue as we move forward," he said.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.