Nov. 23, 2015
To the Pioneer editors:
As the Chairperson of the Department of Communications and Film (Media Arts), I would like to express my support for the editors of the Pioneer as they deal with an unfortunate response to an opinion piece in the November 18 issue of the paper.
Our journalism program trains students to report the news fairly and responsibly, with all legitimate sides thoroughly and fairly given weight. However, the Pioneer also provides a forum for students to voice their views on current issues of importance to them. The “Opinions” section of the paper, in contrast to the “News” section, gives students the opportunity to express personal opinions in a campus forum. The opinions expressed may not be the opinions of the editors, other students, faculty members, or school administrators. Yet, it is important, at a university, for students to have the opportunity to freely express views that may be in the minority of public opinion, and may indeed be offensive to some.
Because they are students, sometimes these opinions may be presented using language others consider tactless. This is a frequent occurrence in the world of student op-ed writing. The student editors of the Pioneer have the task of critically and skeptically editing the opinion pieces before they are published, but they do not, and absolutely should not, impose their own views on their writers. When an op-ed writer offers a piece that appears to go against mainstream views, it is, in fact, particularly important for the student editors to bend over backwards in their efforts to afford the writer free expression. This is what the First Amendment is all about. Though we may not agree with the ideas put forth, we “adults” in the campus community should defend their right to discuss controversial issues in a responsible manner, and we should certainly not teach them that their focus should be on avoiding offending readers, even those in positions of authority.
Because they are still learning their craft, they may make decisions that seem, from the outside, to be unwise. But, it is important for us to understand that, like the science student who may create an explosion in the lab, we should not squelch them, but rather encourage them to develop and refine their sense of editorial judgment through practice. When journalism students go out in the world to practice journalism today, they must be independent and ethical thinkers. The Pioneer staff gains that invaluable experience every week as they work hard to put out the paper. When the campus newspaper is restricted and second-guessed by authority figures, this cannot happen. At a university, all students- all members of the campus community for that matter- must have the opportunity to freely express themselves. For students, faculty members and administrators who disagree with a given piece in the Pioneer, the appropriate reaction should be to write a rational and intelligent response to the “Letters to the Editor” department, which is provided by the paper for that purpose. It is the role of a quality student newspaper to create a conversation on campus about important issues of the day. Our campus newspaper creates such a forum for students and others. In the process, it may ruffle some feathers. We should commend the editors for not shrinking from what they may have seen as a controversial piece, rather than attack them for doing so.
The Pioneer should continue to aim for excellence for the benefit of our entire community, and we should support, rather than undermine, their efforts.
Barbara Fowles, PhD
Department of Communications and Film ( Media Arts)