College Paper Shut Down — ‘Shoddy’ or Just Too Tough?

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A student newspaper at historically black Grambling State University in the piney hills of north Louisiana has ceased publication temporarily on the orders of the provost, prompting the editor to charge that the suspension aimed to quash the paper’s tough stance on the state of the institution.

The fracas over the Gramblinite is the latest trouble for Grambling State, a 106-year-old college in Grambling which has faced a series of problems.

The provost, Robert Dixon, said the issue was shoddy journalism, not any objection to the newspaper’s opinions.

Editor Darryl Smith said Dixon sought to block the paper from publishing editorials that were critical of the school’s maintenance and questioned whether the state wants to close the university.

“They see nothing but negative stories in the paper,” Smith said Thursday. “It’s my firm belief that the state of Louisiana has been trying to close Grambling down for a long time. I know some people in high positions aren’t going to like that, but that’s how I feel.”

“That is totally false, and borders on the absurd,” Dixon said. “We’re not asking them to abridge, or change anything that the students may do, but we’re asking that the students not use plagiarism or poor grammar.”

The governor’s office said there was no truth to Smith’s assertion that the state was trying to shut down the school. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Kim Hunter Reed, the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

“We clearly value the work of Grambling State University,” she said.

The furor began Jan. 17 when Dixon sent a memorandum ordering the weekly paper to halt publication. Smith defied the order, and published another edition the following day.

To resolve the standoff, Dixon asked student journalists and faculty to come up with a plan to resolve what Dixon claimed were errors and plagiarism in the Gramblinite.

In one case, a sports story last fall used the exact wording from a newspaper article in the nearby Monroe News-Star, and Smith said that writer was suspended.

In another article earlier this month, the Gramblinite wrote about Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations and used material from a wire service story without attribution. Smith said it was an oversight not to attribute the material. He said he planned to print a correction but could not do so because the newspaper was suspended.

The newspaper has an annual budget of about $20,000 and a staff of 10.

On Thursday, Dixon said a satisfactory plan to provide more faculty oversight was delivered to him and the newspaper will be allowed to resume publication next week. As of late Thursday afternoon, Smith said he was still in the dark about the newspaper’s status.

Dixon’s move to suspend the newspaper has drawn some fierce criticism.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., rallied to the newspaper’s defense, and charged that Dixon’s move was “likely unconstitutional.”

“The real test will be how the publication will operate in the future,” he said. “These faculty members, as great as they may be, they do have divided loyalties. They can’t be expected to put their jobs on the line to ensure that unpopular student material gets published.”

Sharon Armstrong, president of the Grambling University National Alumni Association, echoed many of the complaints and allegations aired in the newspaper.

“It is my opinion that students at Grambling State University under the present administration have not received equal treatment,” Armstrong said.

She said some departments are understaffed and that such basic services as electricity and water are erratic in the dormitories. “My daughter is up at school, and she says, ‘Mama, we don’t have lights.'”

The problems at the college, she said, show a lack of commitment to the university.

Dixon said the electricity and water problems have been minimal and have been caused by ongoing construction on new student housing.

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