My Mom Fights to Save Community College Journalism

My mom, Toni Allen, is the head of the journalism department for Oxnard College. Like me, she’s never afraid of stirring up controversy in the face of stupidity. For me, it’s usually bad copyright laws and misguided corporations; for her, it’s censorship of the student press and ignorant college administrators.


She’s spent a good part of her academic career studying the systematic dismantling of student-run newspapers and journalism programs at community colleges. Her thesis is the most comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, a statewide survey of journalism programs at 108 community colleges. She found that 42% of respondents said their programs were in danger of being cut, and 14 were already eliminated. (An additional 4 were cut since the survey was published two years ago.)

With an always-looming budget crisis, journalism programs are an easy target for school administrators:

A lack of understanding and support from administrators falls right below the problem of budget cuts. Words like “expendable” and “a headache” are used to describe how administrators view the journalism program and student newspaper.

As she was delivering her keynote speech at the JACC Faculty Conference on Friday discussing her findings, the school’s administration was quietly planning to eliminate the school newspaper and the entire journalism program.

On the agenda for Tuesday night’s board meeting was this item: “A-12. Resolution to Reduce and/or Discontinuance of Particular Kinds of Academic Programs and Services.” The list of “23 specific programs and services” and related employees — including the entire journalism program, campus paper, and my mom’s position — was conveniently omitted. (Someone in the library found a copy of the school board’s packet for Tuesday night, with the included list, and immediately notified the journalism department.) Administrators never discussed the change with the department head, the president of the academic senate, or the program’s advisor, breaking several California Education Codes in the process.

This isn’t the first clash between the administration and the journalism program. For the past couple years, they’ve grown increasingly upset with the student-run campus newspaper. The President publicly referred to it as a “tabloid” and “yellow journalism.” Students have been advised to “stay away from hard news stories.” After one mildly-critical article discussed shortcomings of the campus facilities, all issues of the paper were removed from school grounds overnight. And, in a clear violation of First Amendment rights, the administration wanted to form an advisory board to read and review all stories before they went to print. (Threatened with a lawsuit, they backed off temporarily.)

The budget crisis facing community colleges is serious, but it’s being used as a scapegoat to remove the student body’s right to free speech.

Before my mom got her Master’s degree, she worked in magazine publishing and public relations. She knows the media very, very well. As you can imagine, the board meeting tonight should be very interesting. So far, the LA Times, LA Opinion, Daily News, Ventura County Star, CBS News, KEYT News (ABC), and three radio stations are covering the event. The First Amendment Coalition, Student Press Law Center, and MECHA will all be represented, along with the local and state divisions of the JACC.

If you work for a media outlet, or have even a passing interest in the media or First Amendment rights, you should attend the board meeting tonight 8, at 7pm. It’s open to the public and should be an epic standoff. Here’s a map to the Oxnard Union High School District Office, where the meeting is being held.

If you want to talk to Toni, e-mail or IM me and I’ll pass on her contact information. (That counts for all you blogger journalists out there, too.)

March 9, 2005: The trustees killed the journalism programs, newspapers, and my mom’s job. More details.

18 thoughts on “My Mom Fights to Save Community College Journalism

  1. Brian: At many schools, the answer to your question is, essentially, “Yes.” At The University of Alabama in Huntsville, I was on-staff at The Exponent a couple different times and on the University’s Publications Board when I wasn’t on-staff. At many schools, the paper is a loss-leader, and the University funds it.

    Now, I attended a clueful University that would never pull this crap, but we also don’t have a journalism department. Let me tell you … when you have engineering majors as the editor-in-chief, the paper gets a whole new tone…

  2. Brian,

    Many college papers are subsidized by the institution and affiliated directly with the journalism program. Others (e.g., my alma mater’s Michigan Daily, michigandaily.com ) rely on ad revenue to fund operations, and have never been directly affiliated with the U’s (now non-existant) journalism program. Even the “independent” Daily, however, exists at the whim of the U-M Board of Regents under the control of a U appointed board. So, college’s and U’s have a lot of potential control over student voices.

  3. Brian, they can and they do. At universities throughout the state, journalism programs are also being cut. Keep in mind, however, at four-year colleges, the newspapers are often run by outside companies, i.e. the Daily Bruin at UCLA.

    Community colleges differ in that journalism programs support the student newspaper. When the program is cut, the newspaper is gone. This is happening across the state. It is a crisis that many are unaware of. Simmply put, student newspapers are unpopular on many campuses. They report the good and the bad. Administrators want a PR tool, not a newspaper. when budget cuts roll around, what better way to get rid of the “thorn in their side” as one faculty member put it.

  4. Just an FYI, Andy: I’ll be posting a link to this blog post on the College Media Advisor’s e-mail list. Hopefully they’ll come over here and post some good feedback, or I’ll share with you anything they send on the list.

    I would have your mom, if she’s not on that list already, sign up and post something (if she has in the last couple days, I’m sorry I missed it). The list information and sign up is here:

    http://lists.latech.edu//mailman/listinfo/cma-l

    I’d also possibly get in touch with the Student Press Law Center (http://www.splc.org/) and see what they have to say about this.

    As for the whole independent vs. dependent newspaper debate that was mentioned above, it all depends on your university and how your newspaper is setup. Many of the larger universities have student-run daily newspapers that are completely seperate corporations that rely on ad revenue for paychecks and printing costs. Other universities may be getting funding from student fees and/or the journalism dept. at the respective school (that’s more common in smaller or private schools). It just varies depending on the school.

    But supreme court cases have stated that an administration in a PUBLIC college can NOT censor or attempt to shut down a newspaper for content reasons, because they have first amendment protection (even if they receive some school provided money). It gets messy, however, when private colleges are involved, especially if that newspaper receives any funding from the college, as the courts aren’t nearly as clear on it.

    Good luck to you regardless, and please post a follow up at some point!

  5. Sorry, Andy: Missed that the SPLC is already aware of what’s going on. Ignore my in ability to read properly 😉

    Also, another point: Them stealing the newspaper is a massive theft, especially if they followed SPLC advise and put a “First Copy Free, additional copies $1” or something on the front/mast of the newspaper. That gives it at least a tangible value that you can go after when charges are filed.

  6. UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian had a similiar incident occur back in the 70s. The result: The Daily Californian split from the university, formed it’s own independant foundation to support itself, moved off-campus and remains a strong daily paper to this day. They moved back on to campus about a decade ago, but are more or less tenants, not at all controlled by the University. It’s led to a great many clahses over the years, but both sides are better for it.

    The Daily Cal covers university AND city news, which meant it was Berkeley’s only dedicated daily paper for many years. Even though some others have tried to usurp them (The Berkeley Daily Plent bombed out a couple of years ago), the Daily Cal is still pretty widely respected and is considered one of the best college papers in the nation.

    There’s no reason Oxnard College can’t follow in the same model. Gather the paper’s alumni and ask for donations, sell ad space, and basically run the paper like every other regional paper in the nation. It’s not an easy road by any means, but it’s absolutely possible and, in the face of university censorship, vital to the paper’s health. Since most students work for experience rather than money, it can be done for a relatively low budget (as low as printing a daily or even weekly newspaper would allow). The publicity you’re generating about this can only help the paper move in that direction.

    As far as I know, Cal still has no undergraduate journalism degree, but they consistently pump out brilliant writers who go on to work for some of the biggest and best media outlets in the nation based solely on their experience at the Daily Cal. The merits of an academic journalism program are debatable, but nothing beats real experience when it comes to journalism.

  7. From my Blog:

    As a former Trustee and President of the Board of Trustees of the Ventura County Community College District I simply cannot beleive the current board would ever contemplate the closing of the journalism program or the student newspaper at Oxnard College.

    Unfortunately, it is 9 PM and I just returned home from a day of drilling in Santa Maria and did not know of the meeting tonight. I would have stopped and spoken in support of both programs.

    Believe me I have felt and taken the heat from the students and mainstream press over my political career and there is nothing more to hold a hack accountable than a free press.

    Read Waxy’s account here.

    Waxy let me know if I need to help after tonight!

    Hat Tip: Boing Boing

  8. I always believed that one of college educations great strengths,was the right to exchange ideas, and express different points of view. A college newspaper allows the student the to participate in that exchange.

  9. March seems to be the month for 1st Ammendment fights. I’m the managing editor at The Campus Communicator at Craven Community College in New Bern, NC.

    Our paper started out as a small newsletter that has grown, over the past 3 years to a full-size, excellent student publication. We’ve done pretty well for ourselves, having no journalism dept. to speak of.

    Recently, we decided to take a que from other college papers across the country and try publishing a sex-advice column…in which the word “dildo” was used. A word that can be found in an Abnormal Psyc. textbook on our campus.

    http://www.neuseriverjunction.org

    That was apparently a BAD editorial decision. Following the distribution, we recieved complaints from college staffers, two advertisers, and the college reportedly was swamped with calls from angry parents who refuse to send their kids here. (To them I say, “I don’t think the Amish have anything, but I hear Utah’s nice.) Likewise, a donor to the college’s Foundation threatened to pull funding from the college.

    Alot of papers also “mysteriously disappeared” from several locations on campus.

    We have been fairly financial independant from the college, apart from asking the student council for funds to attend the ACP conference in Nashville in Nov.

    Until now, the only thing that has governed what we print is the editor’s decisions…and ad sales revenue.

    The administration is now wanting to set up an advisory board made up of administration, student council and another student rep. One of our (new) co-advisers is also the Community Relations Coordinator. He’s a great guy, but his primary concern is the image of the college.

    The college does provide our office( a 10 x 20 vault with a window that houses both the newspaper and literary magazine…a combined staff of about 20 people) and equipment. We are being warned to tread carefully, so we don’t get shut down.

    But this has turned into a first ammendment showdown. Most of the [paper] staff is standing behind the fight. One writer has even dedicated a website (seen above) to our cause.

    I don’t know whatelse to say…just thought I’d share our plight.

  10. sorry to hear about your mom. I went to Moorpark College for awhile. I remember when they started to slash budgets we definitely felt it. Funny

    enough i also work for a paper up here in San Francisco now. It is

    called El Mensajero, it is a Spanish weekly.

    I am trying to get our company to develop more online ideas and establish a better prescence online. The community is truely ignored online. We compete against a paper called Nuevo Mundo which is owned by Knight Ridder. They just bought out this local company. i am not sure if you knew about this.

    http://www.marketwatch.com/news/yhoo/story.asp?guid=%7BB829EF99-2C05-4334-85F9-4F1BAA05A1EA%7D&siteid=myyahoo&dist=myyahoo

    Its scary to be in the print market right now. Good luck though. I miss Thousand Oaks, just not the people or their views. 🙂

    your fellow print friend in Berkeley

  11. “Keep in mind, however, at four-year colleges, the newspapers are often run by outside companies, i.e. the Daily Bruin at UCLA.”

    This statement found in a post below is inaccurate. The Daily Bruin is a student-run paper that has operated under the Associated Students UCLA since 1919.

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