The University News: UMKC’s independent student newspaper

Melissa Oribhabor

For the past few weeks, The University News has been in correspondence with what has turned out to be a pressure group that calls itself the movement. This group has engaged in what we consider bullying tactics in an effort to exert its influence on The University News. We will never be manipulated or swayed by harassing tactics or threats of action.

Any hints or veiled threats about funding of the newspaper, as implied in some of the correspondence below, smacks of infringement upon First Amendment rights and could endanger academic freedom. Wielding a monetary club is a way to censor journalistic efforts, which we will never tolerate.

This is an outgrowth of a Forum column that appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The University News. The newspaper and the author of that column immediately apologized and retracted the inappropriate article. And we have taken steps to ensure something like that will not occur again.

Unfortunately that is not enough for some people who seek to politicize our mistake and turn it to their advantage.

We met Oct. 6 with a large group of concerned people in the UMKC community, and we benefited from frank exchanges of views. However, efforts by the movement have negated the positive aspects of that meeting and we will no longer recognize efforts by radical members of the movement.

Since the meeting, The University News has been working to raise our consciousness and sensitivity to issues of diversity. We will continue these efforts, but they will be free of political influences and outside pressures.

Below is correspondence from Friday, Nov. 5 directed to the Editor-in-Chief and the Faculty Advisor concerning the issues stated above.

Dear Melissa and Fred,

I wanted to let you know that I have met with students from the movement who are concerned about the lack of follow-up on several issues as discussed at the October 6th meeting. As you recall I was also in attendance at the meeting, and I share their concerns that several specific items have not been addressed. The group has not received a copy of the U-News staff handbook and standards nor have they received follow-up regarding the list of businesses east of Troost that was sent to the U-News as possible distribution sites. I understand that there are difficulties with arranging time for diversity training, but perhaps scheduling several sessions could help solve this issue.

I also want you to know that I am under the impression that this lack of response may make students question the U-News receiving an off-the-top allocation from the Student Activity Fees instead of presenting a budget request directly to the SAFC like other student organizations do.

Sincerely,

Mel Tyler

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management

University of Missouri-Kansas City

An email sent to Tyler and the dean.

Hi all,

This is in response to what M Tyler wrote regarding The University News:

“I also want you to know that I am under the impression that this lack of response may make students question the U-News receiving an off-the-top allocation from the Student Activity Fees instead of presenting a budget request directly to the SAFC like other student organizations do.”

Folks, I sincerely hope that cool and informed heads can resist the temptation to link funding of The University News to editorial conduct and content of The University News. The U.S. Supreme Court has held time after time that university administrators and/or students governments with that in mind are on a collision course with the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

During the ill-fated Le Beau era something similar happened. That ill-advised attempt brought a national task force from the Society of Professional Journalists swooping down on our campus, conducting interviews from one corner to the other. Ultimately they produced a report for their parent organization that essentially offered the UMKC administration and student government “counseling” through a series of seminars on First Amendment law in this country and the meaning of press freedoms on America’s university campuses.

It was downright embarrassing for such an august body of journalists to have to offer our university leadership such elementary instruction on First Amendment law as it applies to college newspapers.

How about we try really hard not to go there again?

I have a copy of that Society of Professional Journalists report if anybody would like to refresh memories.

Robert Unger

Professor of Journalism

Dear Mr. Tyler,

Thank you for your e-mail this afternoon. We are distressed to learn members of the movement are misleading you.

Regarding the three points this group raised:

We dropped off a copy of our handbook yesterday with Tiffany Williams at the Student Union.

In addition, as I told Keichanda Dees-Burnett, two weeks ago I gave the list of businesses to my business/distribution manager and advertising manager who are contacting those businesses that were discussed in the meeting.

And we recently contacted Lewis Diuguid, who conducts diversity training for The Kansas City Star and the Journalism School at the University of Missouri-Columbia. (Mr. Diuguid, by the way, was acceptable to those attending the Oct. 6 meeting.) And we also contacted Donna Strickland in regard to our diversity training.

By order of Dean Karen Vorst of the College of Arts and Sciences, the movement group is NOT to conduct our diversity training. Rather, according to the dean’s directive, Karen Dace’s office (through Ms. Strickland) is to conduct our diversity training. And we are eagerly awaiting it!

Several people from this pressure group keep emailing me asking me the same questions. I have provided them with the same answers as I am giving you now. But, unless I have one focal contact, that information obviously is not going to everyone.

Perhaps you would be the focal person, as we are looking for someone who does not have radical views or political axes to grind through taking advantage of an unfortunate situation in which we made a mistake and freely admitted it and corrected it.

We have upheld our end of the bargain. What we did not agree to was to be harassed by members of the movement through threatening emails. I am constantly working to get the agreed upon goals accomplished. But this cannot be done immediately because it involves cooperation from many people.

It has been a month; I don’t think that is an excessive amount of time to get these things done. If there is any question about student activity fees as a result of this incident, then it sends a message that implies pressure groups, such as the movement, are condoned to attempt to silence the press, which is a direct violation of our freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Any attempt to interfere with funding of the newspaper is likely to be viewed as an assault on the First Amendment and result in adverse publicity for the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University System as a whole.

The students of UMKC are satisfied with the U-News; it is simply this small group of students who are being allowed to bully us who are causing the problem. We are doing everything we were asked to do. But in no way is it okay for a group of students on this campus to be allowed to repeatedly bully this paper and myself as a result of one bad article that we have retracted, apologized for and changed our editorial process to prevent something like that from happening in the future.

This is a University where students are supposed to learn from mistakes and grow as people. What are students learning when the University is condoning bullying? We are students just like many members of the movement and if their feelings and concerns are being addressed, ours should be, too.

We are pleased, Mr. Tyler, to see your participation in the video against bullying, “UMKC Pride: It gets better.” This demonstrates to us you understand how insidious the bullying we are experiencing from the movement can be.

We will have no further contact with the movement.

The advisor of The University News, G. Fred Wickman, has seen this reply and fully supports it.

Thank you,

Melissa Oribhabor

Editor-in-Chief, The University News, the independent student newspaper of UMKC

An email sent to Ms. Oribhabor and Mr. Wickman

That was a good, and appropriate, reply. The group that is violating Civil Liberties, by engaging in bullying behavior and spreading half-truths, is the movement. I would expect the University to defend the U-News, and at least engage in fact-finding before it condemned it.

Harris Mirkin

Member of The University News Board of Publishers

Associate Professor and Department Chair of Political Science

Dear Melissa,

I appreciate hearing your response and you sharing these efforts with me.

We do not condone bullying at UMKC—this is the first I have heard that you were being threatened. I will ask Dr. Jeff Traiger, Assistant Dean of Students and Chief Judicial Officer, to investigate these allegations. He will follow-up with you shortly to look into the matter and request the referenced e-mails.

Also, I strongly believe that students have the right to ask questions about how student activity fees are being used.

Again, thanks for your response.

Mel Tyler

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management