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.