Campus paper reopens after lockout by administration

Monday, March 6, 2000

The writers are back at work, the presses are humming and the Hudson Valley Community College student newspaper, The Hudsonian, is again open for business.

This is a welcome change for staffers, who were locked out of their Albany, N.Y., offices by the Student Senate in February, they say for printing an ad from a local strip club that administrators found offensive. The Student Senate cites the resignation of the paper’s adviser as the reason for the shutdown.

“They used this as a reason to silence a voice they found distasteful,” said Tony Gray, the paper’s editor in chief. “They wanted to use us a public relations organ of the school.”

Newspaper staffers contend that in the past the university has allowed clubs, including the paper, to operate and use school facilities for weeks at a time without an adviser. “In 1996 when the paper had an adviser leave for health reasons [the paper] was allowed to operate for three weeks.” Gray said. “They haven’t approved of some of our editorials so they have denied us some of our First Amendment Rights.”

For their part, the school and the Student Senate said the shutdown was a procedural necessity. According to school by-laws, no club — and the paper is considered a club — can exist without an adviser.

“From time to time we have had questions about the content of the paper but that is nature of the newspaper business,” said Luis Coplin, who serves as director of student activities. “We would never shut the paper down just because we found something objectionable, we just don’t have the right to do that.”

On Feb. 2, The Hudsonian printed an ad from the Odyssey Strip club soliciting co-eds to take jobs as dancers. Two days later, citing problems with the staff and a desire to no longer have his name and reputation associated with the paper, English instructor Scott Hathaway resigned as adviser after four years of service. That same day, the Student Senate, which provides the campus newspaper with much of its funding, demanded that the paper not only find a new adviser but cancel a planned second Odyssey ad or face shutdown.

The paper agreed to find a new adviser but refused to discontinue the ad unless Jeff Filer, the owner of the Odyssey agreed, in writing, to pull the ad.

The Student Senate shut the paper down on Feb. 7, and the school, which provides the paper with its offices, locked out the staff.

“We had a contract and we were going to honor it,” Gray said. “On this campus the paper is considered just another club, and the laws of the school supercede the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution. There are fundamental differences between us and the ping-pong club. We aren’t The New York Times, but we have as fundamental a right to free speech as anybody else.”

Gray says he believes the Student Senate and the school’s administration agreed to compromise and re-open the paper because media pressure forced them to do so. “We shut down on Monday, Feb. 7 and our story ran on the 10th and the 11th on local television affiliates,” he said. By Feb. 14, “they wanted to sit down and work something out.”

At a meeting with school officials, Gray and the other editors refused to ask the Odyssey to cancel its ad, but said it would be OK if the school did so on their behalf. On Feb. 16, the school announced it had reached an agreement with the strip club that allowed the paper to cancel the ad’s reprint and to refund the payment.

School officials said shutting down the paper wasn’t a response to staffers refusal to pull the ad. Coplin said it was a coincidence that Hathaway resigned when he did, so soon after the printing of such a controversial ad. “It is very ironic that he resigned when he did, had he not, we would have never shut down the paper.”

Hathaway could not be reached for comment.

Gray says David Ten Eyck, an art professor, has agreed to serve as the paper’s adviser and the paper is going back to business as usual, having reopened on Feb. 21.