“The Mountain Echo,” the student-run newspaper at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, published an article that was met with controversy. The article, “Mount President’s Attempt to Improve Retention Rate Included Seeking Dismissal of 20-25 First-Year Students,” written by Rebecca Schisler and Ryan Golden on Jan. 19, detailed the recently hired President Simon Newman’s plan to figure out which students were at risk to drop out.
The President decided to administer a survey to students during their August orientation to determine who may be at risk. The students were not told what the survey would be used for. In fact, they were told that there were no wrong answers.
Dr. Greg Murry, Director of the Veritas Symposium told the student reporters that Newman said, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.”
After publishing the article, the student newspaper, their faculty advisor, and two nonaffiliated professors were punished by the administration. They were not punished because the information was incorrect or was presented biasedly, but they were punished for being disloyal to the university.
As investigative reporters, the students on the newspaper were doing their job. They published the facts in an objective tone, asked for comments from all parties involved, and ran the story to inform the student body.
This incident brings up an important discussion on the role, responsibilities, and rights of student newspapers. Technically, a student newspaper is funded by the university or college it is published by.
Student newspapers are not protected under freedom of speech or press. This becomes an issue in “The Mountain Echo” case and in many others where the student newspaper, functioning as a professional paper, gets wind of a story that jeopardizes the reputation of administration or the college or university in general.
In this case, the student newspaper should absolutely have run the story. The university is dealing with the aftermath of it now, and let’s see how many students apply to this school in the fall, but the student newspaper did some actual investigative reporting. Instead of letting this go around the university as a rumor, they published the facts of the story and let their readership decide what to think about it.
Any newspaper has an obligation to the truth first, regardless of the involved parties. I applaud the courage of the student reporters of “The Mountain Echo” and their commitment to truth in telling this story.