Southwestern College Halts Publication of Student Newspaper

September 16, 2010

Southwestern College, a two-year institution near San Diego, has temporarily halted the student newspaper from issuing a print edition, and student journalists allege it did so to prevent them from publishing articles before a heated election for the college's governing board. But the college denies any attempt at censorship and says the holdup is an administrative issue unrelated to politics.

The paper, The Southwestern College Sun, won several national awards last year from the Society of Professional Journalists for stories that were critical of the college's president and board members. One board member, Jean Roesch, sharply criticized the paper last month and asked for more positive coverage.

Staff members said on Thursday that college officials had barred them from publishing a paper before three members of the board face re-election on November 2. "We've been told we can't publish before the election," said Max Branscomb, the paper's faculty adviser. "It's outrageous, it's inexcusable, and it's flimsy."

Southwestern has suffered from a revolving leadership and nasty battles between administrators, faculty members, and students. Last year, the college suspended four faculty members who participated in a campus protest against cuts to course offerings. In February, Southwestern's accreditor put the college on probation, citing a "culture of fear and intimidation," among other factors.

A spokesman for the college, Chris Bender, said the allegations of censorship were "flat inaccurate." The college stopped publication of the The Sun because officials discovered this summer that the paper is in violation of a campus purchasing policy requiring administrative approval for printing costs, he said.

Once the newspaper obtains proper approval for its printing costs, the paper can resume printed publication, he said. Until then, the newspaper is free to publish its stories online, he said.

"It's not an issue of free speech or freedom of the press," Mr. Bender said. "It's a purchasing problem."