By: Mark Fitzgerald
For the second time in the 14 months since Hampton University dedicated its brand-new journalism school with the boast that it would become one of the top 10 j-schools in the nation, the historically black university in Virginia is facing embarrassing questions about its commitment to journalism and free-press values.
Last year, a high-profile faculty member left the school — which is funded by a $10 million commitment from E.W. Scripps Co.’s philanthropic arm — amid a public controversy over whether longtime university President William R. Harvey believed the school should teach aggressive investigative reporting.
This school year had opened with more promise. The j-school recruited Christopher Campbell from the University of Idaho, and famed reporter Earl Caldwell joined the faculty.
Then, just before homecoming, Acting President JoAnn Haysbert ordered employees to seize copies of the Oct. 22 edition of The Hampton Script because the student journalists who run the school paper published a letter from her inside the paper — rather than on the front page, as she had directed. A new issue was published with the letter on the front page, and a task force was appointed to study the status of the publication.
The seizure of the newspaper was too much for the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), which last week withdrew a $50,000 grant that would have been used to train high school journalism teachers at Hampton’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.
“Our view is that the actions the acting president at Hampton took really fly in the face of the values of the First Amendment and freedom of the press. Ultimately, we couldn’t shrug it off,” said the ASNE’s Peter Bhatia, executive editor of The Oregonian in Portland.
In a statement, Haysbert called the ASNE decision “unfortunate” and quoted from an unnamed past participant in the program saying in part, “(L)et Hampton students, Hampton administrators, and high school journalism teachers debate the issues. Engagement, not punishment, will result in positive change.”