Cardinal Points made “an awful mistake” in printing an insensitive graphic on the front page of the Oct. 23 issue, said Jonathan Slater, chair of the Plattsburgh State Department of Journalism and Public Relations, during the SUNY Plattsburgh Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Jonathan Slater, chair of the Plattsburgh State department of journalism and public relations, began the Cardinal Points section of the meeting by reading from a prepared statement in which he addressed “an awful mistake” made by the newspaper’s staff.
“They demonstrated poor judgment and ostensibly did not follow the protocols and procedures that likely would have prevented their error,” Slater said in his statement.
He noted that although he believes Cardinal Points staff have learned their lesson and feels “contrite” about the graphic, it is a lesson that could affect them in their professional careers.
Slater also addressed the question of certain editorial staff stepping down from their positions in his statement. He acknowledged that staff and advisers are working to figure out the best way to run the newspaper in the future, but that Cardinal Points has a role to play in restorative justice.
Following Slater’s statement, the meeting was opened to questions, and Cardinal Points adviser Shawn Murphy was asked to explain the publishing process in greater detail. Murphy spoke about the process, starting with story assignments.
He then described how section editors lay out articles, photos and graphics on the pages on Wednesday nights after they are edited.
He also said that on the Monday after the paper comes out, there is a three-hour post-publication critique at which he and Cardinal Points staff are present.
“I mark up everything. I also talk about the multimedia, which is basically the videos on the website that go along with the stories,” Murphy said.
Murphy does not review the paper before publication and is not obligated to in any way.
“The College Media Association code of ethics mandates for advisers to student media, specifically newspapers, to not view content prior to print. Number two, the 1st Amendment protections have repeatedly upheld that the state of New York, on college campuses, that the students control the content. The third would be the state public officer law, which puts a state employee in legal jeopardy to oversee the content,” Murphy said.
However, he said that he is available if Cardinal Points staff wish to consult him regarding any content.
Documents are sent to the press Thursday afternoon, and on Friday morning the paper is distributed.
Murphy also acknowledged the severe breakdown in procedure.
“The cartoon was personally offensive to me. I had the same reaction as everyone in this room when I saw it on Friday morning.”
He also noted the lack of connection between the article and graphic.
“Clearly, there was a disconnect between what the cartoonist saw in the story and the cartoon that was created to go along with the story,” he said.
The student who created the offensive cartoon is no longer on the staff of Cardinal Points, but Murphy said he has met with him since the graphic was published.
Student Association Vice President of Academics Feysel Shifa asked why Cardinal Points is “not addressing accountability” and said they are not addressing the primary issue.
“What you’re trying to do is give a placebo to a disease that requires some kind of medicine,” he said, adding the cartoon was published and that blaming the situation on mistakes, poor judgment and lack of protocol does not clearly address the issue, which he said is incompetence in the editorial board of Cardinal Points.
“What is their job if it’s not to edit what’s going to be on the paper?” he said. “We are really offended by this.”
Shifa said that he hopes the journalism department will express their voice and position.
“This is a failure,” he said.
Slater responded by addressing Shifa’s statement regarding incompetence.
“There were failures in protocol and procedure, and addressing those failures is certainly a first step in accountability. Claiming that there was incompetence, that’s a pretty drastic statement, to claim that someone was incompetent. A mistake doesn’t make for incompetence. Incompetence is usually based on a record of mistakes and flagrant violation of protocols and procedures over time. I don’t think that we’re seeing that,” Slater said.
Slater also touched on the issue raised by Shifa, saying the question as to how the newspaper will be run, managed and operated in the future is a question that is answered neither easily nor immediately.
“That requires a real soul-searching on the part of the paper itself,” he said. “It requires consultation with the adviser and with faculty. It is an autonomous publication.”
He said that neither the faculty nor PSUC administration can assume control of the paper from Cardinal Points’ editorial staff.
“We could do that, but the consequences of that, as I alluded to, would generate a whole other set of circumstances that would be unfortunate,” Slater said. “There needs to be accountability. There needs to be some attention to detail and procedure.”
He said 90 percent of success is being able to follow procedure, which Cardinal Points editors failed to do, and that is one reason for the failure.
Other faculty at the meeting expressed concern over editorial positions as well.
Joel Parker, associate professor in the biological sciences department, said restoring people’s faith in Cardinal Points is important to the healing process. He said that although faculty can’t force any decision, he doesn’t see any way around the editors who saw the graphic stepping down in order to help restore the paper’s credibility.
Parker also added that the Student Association may have just cause for considering canceling its block subscription from Cardinal Points at the end of the spring 2016 semester.
“Unless you can come up with a really good explanation for how you’re going to restore faith in the paper, Student Association may have reason to pulling the subscription,” he said.
Another concern was raised by Student Association Vice President of Finance Jessica Rappaport over the lack of action Cardinal Points has taken to address this issue publicly. She reiterated the fact that the SA cannot mandate any actions that affect the autonomy of the Cardinal Points editorial board, but that the community wants answers.
“The student body hasn’t received enough from Cardinal Points and from the journalism department. We’ve seen things from Student Affairs, we’ve seen things from the Student Association, but we haven’t seen anything from the journalism department or Cardinal Points. And that doesn’t mean it’s not going on, but the student body is not aware.”
Following Rappaport’s statement, Debra Kimok, a library professor, spoke about the rich history Cardinal Points has on the PSUC campus and urged faculty to consider the ramifications of shuttering the paper.
Shifa spoke again on the issue, focusing on accountability in an academic sense by comparing this issue to others that students face in college and other higher education situations.
“If a student creates plagiarism, do you say ‘OK, come here. Say you’re sorry. Ask for forgiveness. We’ll send you to a class about academic integrity and then you’ll be OK. This will be a learning experience’? That doesn’t happen,” Shifa said.
He also added that finding out where specific mistakes were made is a step that should come later in the process.
“We do need to understand what happened. Let’s start from the beginning. But first let’s take real accountability,” he said.
While the graphic was the chief topic of the discussion, Freda Ginsberg, an assistant professor of counselor education said she believes the graphic is part of a bigger problem on campus.
“I don’t think there is a lot of savvy on this campus to deal with people who come from oppressed backgrounds, other countries or don’t align with your background or your beliefs. That to me kind of feels like what is brewing underneath this.”
Ginsberg said she is worried about the environment on campus as a result of these issues. She also spoke about times she had personally witnessed incidents on campus that involved social injustice.
“No disrespect to the incident, but I think there are some bigger issues at hand about what type of campus you want to live on and what kind of experiences were inviting students and faculty and other professionals into when they join this community.”
In order to express the faculty stance on the graphic, a motion was made to pass a resolution stating exactly how faculty feel, and what action they plan to take. After some editing, the motion was passed.
“We want to express our clear conviction that the hurtful, racist cartoon in the October 23, 2015, edition of Cardinal Points does not represent institutional values that we hold dear. We affirm our unequivocal determination to assure a welcoming and respectful environment for our students and faculty and in good faith ask campus educators to bring this issue to their classrooms and to hold discussions with students as an important focus of the educational mission of the campus.”
Following the resolution, Cardinal Points business was put on hold until PSUC President John Ettling addressed the matter in his report.
The first aspect he addressed was the addition of a campus chief diversity officer. This position was given to J.W. Wiley, the current director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at PSUC.
Ettling said this position was being discussed prior to the issue with the graphic of the Oct. 23 issue of Cardinal Points; however, the graphic sped up the process.
Wiley has been tasked with implementing the best practices related to diversity in all aspects of the campus, and will be part of developing a campus diversity plan.
“He will work collaboratively with offices across campus,” Ettling said.
Ettling also said he had met with leaders from two student groups on campus — Akeba and another group handing out petitions — regarding the offensive graphic. One of the points on the petition was a request for an external committee to investigate the circumstances that led to the printing of the graphic.
“The students don’t actually have faith in the newspaper itself or in any faculty that advise the newspaper, so they asked me to create an external panel to look into this,” Ettling said.
The external investigation committee will include three members — Bob Grady, the former editor of the Press Republican; Jose Torres, a PSUC English professor who has experience working with students on a publication; and an unnamed female PSUC student, who will be announced Friday morning.
Slater will be responsible for facilitating meetings and interviews between the investigative committee and Cardinal Points staff.
The completed report will be addressed to Ettling, who will then release it to the campus community.
“I hope they are able to do this before Thanksgiving,” Ettling said.
In his report, Ettling also clarified his stance on the Cardinal Points editorial board resignations.
“I do not have the authority, nor do I wish, to ask for the resignation of the editorial board,” Ettling said.
Although he said he cannot ask or demand resignations, he said suggestions were made.
“All I said was among the things they consider to repair the extraordinary damage that this caused is that they at least consider resignation,” Ettling said. “But it’s not within my authority, nor do I care to ask them to resign.”
In the midst of unconfirmed information around campus, Ettling also clarified the administration’s stance on shuttering Cardinal Points.
“Another thing that is floating around out there that is absurd and I want to put an end to it — we are not going to shut down the newspaper,” Ettling said.
Again, Ettling said suggestions about Cardinal Points printing had been made.
“It has been suggested that they take off the rest of the semester to consider the egregious breakdown that resulted in this thing that has caused damage to the students on this campus and the college as a whole,” Ettling said.
Ettling said editors had considered resignation, but in part because of the advice of faculty advisers, had decided not to step down.
Following Ettling’s report, Asmert Abraha, a member of National Association of Black Accountants, raised a question to Ettling regarding the funds Cardinal Points receives from the SA, and what decision students have in where those funds are allocated.
Abraha expressed deep concern that Cardinal Points did not represent the student body.
“Students are demanding for the Student Association to not give our money to Cardinal Points. All our money went toward those prints that disrespected us.”
Ettling alluded to the SA vote on Nov. 10 during which students can vote on whether they want the SA fee to be mandatory or optional. The outcome could affect the SA’s subscription to Cardinal Points, as well as the funding of other clubs and organizations on campus.
Abraha also raised a question about the faculty adviser to Cardinal Points and was curious about his role before the newspaper is sent to print. She noted that had editors been given faculty advice previous to printing, perhaps the graphic may not have been published.
Ettling responded to her inquiry by explaining Cardinal Points’ relationship with PSUC.
“I did sign something years ago that gave editorial autonomy to this newspaper. You expect a degree of competence and responsibility, and by-and-large we get that. There is a 1st Amendment protection for the freedom of the press. There’s also a 2nd Amendment protection that gives you the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t give you the right to give your pistol to a 4-year-old,” Ettling said.
Email Thomas Marble at firstname.lastname@example.org