By Russ Emal
On November 5, 1996 the senior staff of the Mendocino College EAGLE published the first Extra in the newspaper's twenty-four year history. It was a difficult decision to make due to the sensitive material it contained. Much has been said in the following weeks about this decision, and whether the decision was a good one. Also, would the college do anything to inhibit the EAGLE staff from continuing to publish the EAGLE in either of its two forms, the printed or the on-line version. While the debate will continue, a new development has occurred that causes us to ask if Susan Bell was not correct when she asked in her letter to the Mendocino College Board of Trustees, "Is there not an atmosphere of 'kill the messenger' in place here at the college?"
Several days after the EAGLE Extra was published, the link supplying public access through Mendocino College's internet web site was broken. Anyone who wished to find out more about our college and what it might have to offer a potential student can explore this site. Through the sites links one could also find out about programs available at Mendocino College. One of those programs is the EAGLE. From the inception of the Mendocino College web site anyone could link to our college's newspaper. Three days after the printing of the sensitive matter contained in the EAGLE Extra, the link was closed.
It had been the aim of EAGLE staffers to allow the public to decide whether problems do exist at Mendocino College. Many concerns have been brought to our attention and we felt that only by opening all the doors at the school could the public look inside. Only with this open door policy could the public decide for themselves what is fact and what isn't. With this same conviction I wrote a letter to all of the administrators as well as an open public letter to all the staff at the college asking for their opinion about closing the link. I asked: "Is the school engaging in censorship?" Following is that letter and all of the replies I received from the staffers who choose to reply.
Many writers asked for their names to be withheld because they had a fear of retaliation and because of that concern, I have done so. Also some of the letters contain information unrelated to my request and for space saving purposes only, some of the letters were edited. In all other respects, the letters appear just as written. To tie all of the letters together are comments by myself.
The following is my open letter to the administrators and staff of Mendocino College and the community at large:
From Russ Emal (via campus email)
Dear Mendocino College administrators, faculty and students:
It has come to my attention that the link joining the college web site to one of the school's programs, The EAGLE, has been severed. I was told that the EAGLE does not promote the image of the college and that is the only reason for the school having their site. Making the school look good. Could this be the reason or was censorship by the school, the real reason for this decision?
The EAGLE recently published an extra edition which contained controversial material. Newspapers often do that. When we decided to publish the EAGLE Extra, were we expected to ask ourselves whether the material helped promote the college? Shouldn't a newspaper be in the business of conveying information to it's readers? Need we ask each administrator at the school, "Does this article make you look good?" Please tell me, who is the Dean of Censorship at Mendocino College?
What is the criteria for inclusion on the colleges site? That we exist at Mendo or that we conform? What will happen when the college's track team loses another meet, if the art department has a showing of nudes, if the ceramics teacher blows up a kiln or God forbid, if an English teacher misspells a word? Remove their link to the college? What is the philosophy being used here? Lets tell it. But, not all of it!
The EAGLE also reports on favorable issues that happen at the school? Who is to decide what is favorable and what isn't? The administration or the people involved with their individual programs? Can you see where this action might lead? "Hey Coach," says the administrator, "you are going to lose this game! Run a sweep right or we will close your link!" Were advisor's Collins or Glaser contacted and told about the link change? How about their supervisor, Dean of Instruction, Susan Bell? No, they were not.
The EAGLE Web Site was initially set up by faculty advisor Dale Glaser in order to use the very latest state of the art internet technology as a teaching and training tool for students working on the EAGLE and interested in journalism. The web represents a very important future aspect of technology in general and journalism in particular. While the site currently resides on Glaser's web space, the EAGLE is about to gets its own home on the Pacific Internet web server.
If you have looked at the site, you know that it is well designed and well-organized for both presentation of information about the EAGLE as well as the on-line publication of the newspaper. Dale has devised several unique web design tools using HyperCard that automate the updating and maintenance process of the site, and he and EAGLE co-advisor King Collins have and are currently using the site as well as the HyperCard web tools as training materials in their classes.
This is what the public should be told through its web Site. Not that administration censors the college newspaper.
Please tell me and the EAGLE's readers, "Who made this decision and will it be changed?" Contact me, via eMail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Letters to the Editor at the EAGLE. We should be proud of the EAGLE and strongly promote and support its efforts. Closing the link is censorship!
One of the first replies to my letter was from Dean of Instruction, Phil Hartley.
From: Phil Hartley
You may use the following letter if it is not edited.
Your eMail addressed to me raises a number of serious issues concerning the College's appropriate use, responsibility and liability for home page Web sites. As you are aware these issues concerning internet use are being widely discussed at colleges and universities nationwide as well as in the courts. Is the College's official home page one of its several open forums or is it one of its many special purpose "publications"? If it is a special purpose publication (like the catalog, schedule of classes, brochures, special publications, media ads) ought not there to be some quality assurance process? Cannot the College decide what material it chooses to include its publications? And does the College bear liability for material for which it chooses to provide access? (The case at Santa Rosa J.C. might be instructive in this regard). I think these issues deserve more discussion than is conveniently done via eMail and I would very much enjoy having a further discussion at your convenience. As to the current linkage decision, no, I'm not the one charged with making the decision, although my opinion was solicited.
Russ Emal's response for the EAGLE:
Dean Hartley asks, "Is the College's official home page one of its several open forums or is it one of its many special purpose 'publications'?" I wonder when the EAGLE changed categories. Three days after publishing the EAGLE Extra? When the school first decided to have a web page, the EAGLE was the first and only link from the school's site. What changed?
How about liability? Does the school have a need to worry about the consequence of having a newspaper? As Dean Hartley says, "It is still being decided in the courts." Can we compare liability at the newspaper to other school programs like school athletic teams. If a player is hurt participating in these activities, is the school responsible? Yes it is. But, they have found a way to still have sports and shield themselves from potential lawsuits. Liability insurance. If a player is hurt and choose to sue, Mendocino College is covered at a cost of about $350 per year per team. Could the school not have kept freedom of speech alive and been protected? Is potential liability the real reason for the broken link?
Frankly while you might want to discuss these issues in person rather then via eMail, or for that matter here on the web, I kind of like doing it this way, where everyone gets there own "real feel" for our positions. By the way Dean Hartley, when your opinion was solicited, what was your advice to the ad hoc group?
Many wrote to me and asked to keep their anonymity. Here are a few of those letters. Some, like the first one, show a bit of humor. Could this be a possible candidate for publisher of the much talked about T.A.B?
From: Name Withheld
You ask good questions and raise a basic freedom of speech issue. I was not in the info loop on any of this. No one asked my opinion, but it does seem a bit hyperactive. . . . Once again, I've given up trying to explain the inexplicable. I would be interested in knowing more about the decision making process that led to severing the link.
P.S. Do you think all of this could be related to the pellets/sprays they are using in Ukiah to kill off cute critters and misplaced native plants?
From: Name Withheld
Its really tough when you look in the mirror and see a coward looking back. Unfortunately, this is the case and a very traumatic realization for me. I came in to my office today to try to un-send my eMail of yesterday. I had worried it to death. Quite frankly, peace of mind is worth a lot. Your reassurance (in regard to withholding my name) was important and helped, a little.
Colleagues have shared that they have concluded it really is not the classic scenario of "The Emperor Has No Clothes," but rather a scenario of "the clothes are empty." Some have shared they are not speaking up because they feel the situation is hopeless, if lack of information by top level admin. is not the problem......the rest is just too discouraging to consider. Many refuse to engage in futility. Russ, these words have been used by management folks, however if you use them some folks will run for cover in fear of retaliation. This is not an unrealistic fear. Change will have to be triggered by students and faculty.
Emal's comment: Isn't now the time for the faculty at Mendocino College to speak up or will the "Closet Complainers" remain hidden forever? Many letters have been sent to me requesting anonymity, the above two letters represent the general theme. Here are several from individuals who were willing to have their names attached to their letters.
From: Oscar De Haro
I had not been aware that the link was severed. It seems to me that the decision, whomever made it - would be found with the President's office - since I am presuming he authorized such an action. I encourage you and the Eagle advisors to request an explanation, directly from Dr. Ehmann or whomever he has designated. I understand your point of view and am sympathetic to it, but I have not been not privy to the decision in question.
From: Ruth Lincoln
Congratulations on volume 24, issue #3 of the EAGLE. I concur with Merie Holl, the EAGLE does have support from many who prefer to remain out of firing range.
I am disappointed and uninformed about the process that led to severing the web page link. You ask good questions and raise a basic freedom of speech issue. . . .
From: Vicki Patterson, Tech Prep
Well, Russ, you sound very angry and your questions seem rhetorical. In other words, you appear to believe censorship has been perpetrated.
Unfortunately, I can't answer your important questions because I don't know the policy. I am a contract worker here at the college and I don't belong to any policy groups (except the Curriculum Committee on which I represent part-time faculty). I do know that Carl sent me an eMail supporting my decision to invite opponents of Prop 209 to my class which was criticized by some faculty as being partisan of me. Carl said he supported open discussion because that was the role of a college (this, by the way, before the "scandal" broke).
I also saw the eMail Susan sent asking you not to print her letter and saying she considered it confidential. I don't know if publishing it on your part was a legal breach of confidence.
However, I personally believe in open discussion, public knowledge of serious issues concerning our community and an atmosphere of general trust that permits and even encourages risk-taking.
From: "Mark Rawitsch"
Thanks for your note. I have admired the format and quality of the EAGLE Web page in the past and, until your message today, have heard nothing of the now- "missing link." I'm not sure who you should contact. Maybe Karen Christopherson in Computing Services would know how/who/why the link may have been changed. Thanks!
Emal's comment: Closing the EAGLE's link happened just after the newspaper choose to print, in the EAGLE Extra, a collection of documents gathered at Mendocino College. Included in the Extra was the now famous letter from college dean, Susan Bell, It was addressed to the college's Academic Senate. Dean Bell also responded to my request for information regarding the broken link. Here is her letter:
From: Susan Bell
Letter to the Editor:
I clarified to the EAGLE staff on Oct. 25 in writing that I did not want my Sept. 18 letter to the Board of Trustees printed because I considered it a confidential document. I believed that it would be misconstrued as "whistle blowing" and would work counter to my desire to resolve my issues internally.
Now that it has been printed, I would like your readership to know that my letter was part of a personnel appeal process at Mendocino College. I stand by its contents.
As an instructional administrator-and even though I would have preferred my letter not appear in print-I advised you to check out the legality of printing documents received anonymously. Since you did not obtain my letter by illegal means, I conveyed to you that you probably had a right to print it. As I understand it, EAGLE staff researched this issue and discovered that you do have the right to print such documents.
In response to your inquiry about the removal of the EAGLE link to the Mendocino College internet home page, I was very disturbed to hear that the link to the EAGLE was eliminated, and I am in the process of determining just how and why this was done. A decision was made at some point to establish the EAGLE link with the college home page. Removing it at a time when the controversial EAGLE edition has appeared smacks of censorship.
The EAGLE is a recognized instructional program and activity, so issues related to it should have been brought to me as the overseeing administrator before this action was taken. You may be assured that I will be investigating this matter with college staff, and will let you know what I find out.
Emal's comment: It has been suggested by several people, that we ask Carl Ehmann for his position on the issue. President Ehmann spoke to K.C. Meadows in an interview for the Ukiah Journal. In that interview he told Meadows that he believed a student newspaper should give students an opportunity to learn about the newspaper business, about controversy and a chance to grow and learn. Interestingly, as Meadows says, " That appears to be exactly what's happened." Meadows concludes, "I think the students at Mendocino College ought to be very concerned that the president of their college believes he has the right to dictate what they can or can't write, print or advocate. I think the EAGLE's Web site ought to be immediately reconnected to the colleges web site."
The following letter is the direct response by President Ehmann to our request for information about the link:
Subject: EAGLE Link To Home Page
From Carl Ehmann
Recently, the EAGLE link to the Mendocino College Home Page was discontinued. This was done for the following reasons:
1. Permission to use the college name is done so only with the permission of the college president. To do otherwise is a violation of college policy and state law.
2. The Home Page was designed to be an "infomercial" for the college, not a means to discuss general forum issues. These rules were agreed to by the ad hoc group working with the faculty member who devised the Home Page.
3. Recent conferences on theses matters lead one to believe that the college may be held liable for material on a home page or electronic bulletin board which is placed by others, if the college has prior knowledge that objectionable material is present.
4. Our ad hoc group will advise us on what the home page will contain, no other group or organization will unilaterally decide what materials to include.
5. In this particular case, the EAGLE has access to the Internet through other means.
1) One wonders why the subject of name use is now brought up. Is this the beginning of your assault on the right of the college newspaper to use the college name?
2) Now we hear that the web site is an " infomercial" for the school. Do you mean that you and the ad hoc committee want the school's web site to be just a puff piece? Is this what you want to replace intellectual dialogue? I think that in the long run, we will be better respected for embracing criticism at all levels, even in public, rather then showing a facade of unity.
3) We are told that the college may be held liable for material on a home page.What is the difference between the on-line version and the printed version of the Eagle? Editorial comments and opinions appear in both places under the name of the college? Is it now the college's position that you will personally scrutinize all the articles before they are published. Public radio also has concerns about libel suits brought against radio stations. What they do is preface all shows with the simple disclaimer, " The opinions heard here is not necessarily those of this radio station." In the end your role is to worry about liability. We're worried about free speech. We think free speech is what will get us where we want to go.
4) Retrorationale aside, should ad hoc committees, put together by you, decide virtually every important matter at the college? Clearly this is the concern of Dean Bell and the Academic Senate. Wasn't this the main reason for having the November 19th Forum?
5) Certainly we have access. We made it a point to have a web site. We established it before the college had one. But, how will the on-line newspaper be found, if not through the college`s web site? When potential students and other community members look to explore Mendocino College, do we want them to look at how pretty the buildings are or into the minds of the people associated with the college.
Dr. Ehmann, isn't this all just a subterfuge to cover your censorship of the Eagle? Will you again connect the newspaper to the college`s web site if we are good boys and girls? The following letter, from Tonia Wilder of YOUR ad hoc committee, cuts through the ruse and reveals the paternalistic authority that you would like to wield over OUR college.
Emal's comment: The following letter might give the clearest insight to the minds of upper management at our college. The reply from one of the two people on the ad hoc committee responsible for the college's web site , Tonia Wilder:
From: Tonia Widler
Re: EAGLE Web Site
To: Russ Emal
We unlinked the Eagle to the official college page after an issue came out that had some ethical problems with it. Had we not, the college could have been liable for legal action. I hope the Eagle gets back to student issues and concerns, and reporting in a manner that enables us to hook it back up..........I hope to have several departments up on the web page before winter break.
Emal's comment: In this letter, we get to the real truth of the matter. 1) The school dictates what ethics the student population must subscribe to. 2) The administrators of Mendocino College do not want real journalism at the school. They want chatter. 3) The school will continue to link other departments to it's web site. Those departments who conform.
It should be clearly noted by all individuals who read this article or intend to enroll at Mendocino College, that college president Carl Ehmann and his "Ad Hoc Group", are actively engaged in Censorship of the students at Mendocino College.
As K.C. Meadows says in closing in her article, "I think the community is going to hear more about what's happening at Mendocino College in the weeks to come." Well said K.C.
[Read the full text of K.C. Meadows editorial on the Eagle]
Copyright Mendocino College Eagle 1996
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited.