St. Louis University, Student Editors Clash on Changes

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St. Louis University’s board is expected to vote this week on proposed changes the school says would improve the student newspaper’s quality.
But student editors say the move is another attempt by the university to transfer control of a paper that often is critical of administrative decisions.

The changes include giving the university power to hire and fire editors.

When student journalists learned of the plan this week, they began planning a protest.

A yes vote by the university’s board would rescind the newspaper’s charter, allowing the administration to hold the new charter.

Currently, the newspaper’s editorial board hires the editor in chief.

“If you are hired by the university, you are going to be reticent to speak out against them,” incoming editor in chief Katie Lewis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Diana Benanti, outgoing editor in chief, filed suit against St. Louis University on Monday in St. Louis Circuit Court, alleging that the school had rescinded the full tuition remission that it gives to the newspaper’s editor because it did not agree with her editorials.

A university spokesman said it lowered Benanti’s stipend and those of other student leaders in order to give stipends to more student leaders.

The newspaper’s new charter says that there will be no advance approval of content required and that student editors “are free to develop their own editorial policies, content, programming and news coverage.”

Kent Porterfield, the university’s vice president of student development, said the university would not dismiss an editor for having a strong opinion. But he said the university wanted hiring and firing power in case of student misconduct, financial mismanagement or other issues.

Porterfield added that most of the changes were aimed at improving the paper’s quality. He cited errors and the mixing of opinion and news as persistent problems.

“I can’t stress enough that the changes we are suggesting are not in any way to try to silence the student newspaper,” he said. “It is about trying to create a stronger newspaper.”

The new charter would establish two new staff positions — a newspaper adviser and a student media coordinator. They would give students more consistent support and advising, plus help with financial operations, he said.

Benanti disagrees the changes are about quality. She said animosity between the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the university’s president, and the student paper had been building for years.

Benanti said that she and other editors had been trying to improve quality but that it was difficult to recruit student writers who were unpaid.

Lewis is also upset by the timing, the week before finals.

Porterfield said he wanted student feedback on the changes, but added, “I don’t think it would be fair to say it is a negotiation.”

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