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Volume 69, Issue 94, Thursday, February 19, 2004


Staff Editorial


                            Matt Dulin    Barrett Goldsmith    Zach Lee 
                Jim Parsons            Christian Schmidt           Blake Whitaker

Bad news

Imagine a student newspaper staff composed of students selected by a university employee. Imagine that newspaper trying to fairly and accurately cover a controversy involving university business.

Hard to imagine, isn't it?

But a University of Texas at Austin attorney thinks that's how it should be done, according to an e-mail presented to the Texas Student Publications Board of Operating Trustees, The Daily Texan reported Wednesday.

UT attorney Lee Smith said that delegating employment decisions to students is against the law because UT is a state university. Instead, he advised, the hiring and firing of newsroom staff members should be left to the director or adviser -- a university employee.

At The Daily Cougar, and many student newspapers across the country, hiring and firing decisions are under the purview of the editor in chief, who at UH is elected by the Student Publications Committee every semester. As it stands, the responsibility of running the paper is in the hands of a student and the student editors he or she hires. It's set up that way for a reason: It's a student newspaper.

If a university employee takes over the role of selecting a student newspaper's staff, the paper could be easily manipulated. Students could be hired and dismissed to fit what the university thinks is best. Aside from the horrendous conflict of interest, a university would also have to be prepared to accept the legal burden of running the paper.

Kathy Lawrence, UT's student publications director, said she would not change the hiring process but might look into a new policy that would allow students to appeal hiring decisions to her.

That could be a wise move if the adviser continues to stay out of hiring decisions, but it should be clear that Smith's advice was out of line. Student newspapers need the freedom to select their staffs without the influence of the universities they cover.
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