Auburn honors program strikes student editorials from newsletter

Thursday, June 3, 1999

Officials and student leaders with Auburn University's Honors College recently struck student editorials from the program's official newsletter, saying the commentaries were not appropriate content.

But the student editor of the Honors Eagle claimed that Interim College Director Jack Rogers and honors student leaders pulled the editorials because of “negative expressions” they said were in the essays.

“I vehemently disagreed with the revisions,” Brad Carmack wrote in a letter to The Auburn Plainsman, the Alabama state university's student newspaper. “The move caused me to once again question whether the Honors College represents intellectual values such as the necessity of challenging the status quo.”

Honors College students distribute the Honors Eagle four times a year to students in the program, faculty members and alumni who have contributed to the college. In the past, the newsletter focused solely on upcoming programs, Carmack said.

A junior English major who was elected editor by other honors students last year, Carmack said he had sought during his tenure to make the newsletter a publication worth reading.

“I wanted to make it interesting,” Carmack said. “My ultimate goal was to make it where people would want to read it. I don't know if many people are reading it now, but no one was reading it before.”

In an interview with the Plainsman, Rogers said he was concerned that the newsletter wasn't carrying any news about the Honors College or its students. He said he wanted more information for students about subjects such as writing thesis papers.

Rogers did not return calls from placed to his office.

Carmack agreed that during his tenure as editor the newsletter included more essays and commentaries than actual Honors College news.

“I understand the need to publicize what is available, although that information could be best put in brochures,” Carmack said. “But it is also important for students to express themselves. I thought this would make the Honors College look good, not bad, by making Auburn look like a campus of thinkers.”

Carmack said the newsletter generated considerable interest, particularly after an Auburn faculty member cited several newsletter editorials in a letter published several months ago in the Birmingham News. The letter addressed growing dissatisfaction with the operation of the university.

About a week after the letter was published, Carmack said Rogers and several student leaders instructed him to start including more faculty commentary, to stop distributing the newsletter to faculty members and to pull the Eagle page from Auburn's Web site.

They also told Carmack to remove the student editorials in the upcoming spring 1999 edition of the Eagle. The newsletter was to include editorials about student elections, a referendum concerning the university's student union and concerns about student representation in university affairs.

“I felt [they were] kind of encroaching on my authority,” Carmack said. “It's not right.”

The newsletter incident marks the second time this year that Auburn officials and student leaders have sought to control the content of a student publication.

On Jan. 7, Auburn's Board of Student Communications voted 5-4 to adopt a resolution chastising the editor of The Plainsman, the school's student newspaper, for the paper's coverage of a university trustee. All five votes came from student board members.

After the Alabama Press Association warned the board that part of its resolution constituted a threat to fire the editor and violated her First Amendment rights, the board backed off part of the resolution.

Last month, Jerry Brown, director of Auburn's journalism department, announced that he had accepted the job of dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism. Brown had cited Auburn's “political climate” and disregard for student First Amendment rights as a catalyst for leaving.