Last week, I reported on the case of Western Illinois University suspending the Western Courier editor-in-chief Nicholas Stewart because he sold video he took of a riot on campus. This week, WIU decided to reinstate Stewart.
WIU student services vice-president Gary Biller informed Stewart, “a preliminary review … has revealed that no complete policy exists within the Western Courier to guide us in determining a finding regarding your association with the Western Courier and your work as a freelance journalist” and declared, “Given the lack of guidance available regarding Western Courier policies and procedures, I am lifting your suspension immediately, and I will inform the publications board of this action.” This case is a good example of why interim suspensions should almost never be used. Stewart has already been punished by this suspension and the burden of fearing a disciplinary penalty. All of this could have been avoided if Biller had simply read the policies of his campus before taking an illegitimate and illegal action.
Nicholas Stewart noted,
Biller essentially blames the Western Courier for the whole incident claiming there was a “lack of guidance available.” I disagree entirely….It’s pretty clear that they didn’t take the time to read the manual or ask the publications board their policy on freelancing prior to handing out the suspension. In the letter, Biller states that he wants the publications board to “develop policies, procedures, and a code of ethics appropriate to this publication.” Again, it’s always been clear that not only is freelancing allowed, it’s encouraged to build our brand. Unfortunately for Western, my work put them in the national headlines in an unflattering way. It’s a shame they keep passing the blame instead of just taking responsibility for their drastic actions.
The only Western Courier policies that need to be changed are the policy giving the Director of Student Publications the sole power to remove newspaper employees, and the university policy regulating alcohol advertising, which are both illegal under state law. Policies at WIU do need to change: there should a faculty committee that deals with student discipline, rather than the authoritarian control of one administrator.
It’s absolutely outrageous that a highly-paid administrator would punish a student for exercising his First Amendment freedoms and fail to read his own campus policies, and then, after being forced to backtrack, would refuse to apologize and instead try to intimidate the newspaper into changing its policies, presumably in order to give him this arbitrary authority the next time he desires to suppress student free speech.