On Friday, Edgewood students protested the Catholic college’s removal of a document on its website that provided contact information for two Madison-based Planned Parenthood clinics.
The College made the Off-Campus Wellness Resources document in question available to all students, faculty, and staff on its internal website on Thursday, but student journalists say the links’ removal is just the latest example of growing tensions between students and administrators.
Alyssa Allemand is a senior at Edgewood College and has been the editor for On The Edge, the College’s student paper, for the last two years. She attended a meeting called by five faculty members yesterday regarding those tensions.
“They didn’t necessarily vote on anything, but various statements were made talking about the situation. From our article on Friday, a faculty member read a statement in support of students that various faculty members have been signing,” Allemand says.
“I think there’s over a hundred signatures, or around a hundred signatures on that one right now, so there was just kind of discussion about how to go about these statements, and whether to have one cohesive statement on behalf of faculty and staff, or if there should be various different ones that they sign, and just kind of what issues those statements should speak to, so it was really just [a] discussion. ”
Allemand also says that, at the beginning of this semester, interim president Mary Ellen Gevelinger told faculty and staff to not speak with “outside media.”
Those comments were originally made in the context of layoffs and program cuts, but Allemand believes that following Friday’s protest, staff feel like they still shouldn’t talk to outside press regarding any sensitive matter.
On The Edge’s media editor and Edgewood senior Robin Gee attended a separate meeting yesterday between students and the interim president. Gee says that Gevelinger’s words have also caused some confusion about whether or not students may attend certain meetings as reporters.
“There has been a lot of confusion between the administration and On The Edge about whether or not we count as outside media,” Gee says. “When I was going to this meeting yesterday, they were not clear about whether or not I should go as a journalist or as a student, and so that was something that was another frustration about the lack of transparency between the administration and us. ”
Don Downs is a retired professor at UW-Madison. He says that Edgewood could restrict student journalism without violating First Amendment rights because it is a private entity.
But, if Edgewood has any policies that protect the free speech rights of its students and employees, then such restrictions would constitute a contractual — not First Amendment — violation.
“The bottom line here, at least when it comes to Edgewood, is if it’s a public school, they could not restrict the rights of the students here,” Downs says. “But, they have an arguable right to restrict the rights of the employees depending on what that speech is about and what the employees’ duties are and things like that.”
It’s unclear what free speech rights Edgewood College faculty members have as an employee handbook is not available to the public.
Confusing statements notwithstanding, interest in student journalism at Edgewood has grown.
Patricia Simms is On The Edge’s faculty advisor. She says that the paper had been relatively “quiet” for a few years, but that this year has been different.
“When you can get more than a dozen people writing, and editing, being involved, at showing up at my house on [a] Sunday to make decisions, it’s really special,” Simms says.
Allemand and Gee say that they will continue to follow the story throughout the winter break, and when they return to campus in January.