By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Thousands of students and professors returned to the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff this fall to discover that their academic careers were about to be messed with. Blaming budget woes, university president Eugene Hughes announced in late August that 19 majors could be eliminated over the next few years.
The cuts were not a total shock. The administration started taking the pulse of various colleges and departments last year, and an Orwellian vocabulary for the academic axing had already been established. If all the proposed cuts are made, the university's "retrenching" and "right-sizing" efforts will by 1995 kill the majors of almost 2,000 of the university's more than 15,000 students. The jobs of hundreds of professors are also at risk.
Majors like art history, fashion merchandising, journalism and microbiology will be lost in the first wave of potential cuts. Advertising, dental hygiene, nursing, public relations and others will follow in phase two. Engineering students and some foreign-language students also face extinction. Forestry and hotel management--a couple of the school's prestige programs--will be untouched, if not enhanced, by "retrenching."
Of all the wounded majors, journalism students--as well as journalism faculty and alumni--were likely the least surprised by Hughes' plan. The president has feuded for years with the campus's student newspaper, the Lumberjack, which in turn has been habitually critical of his office. Professors and students believe that Hughes has targeted journalism for elimination solely because he hates the student-run newspaper.
"I knew that if there were going to be any cuts of programs, that journalism would be the first one to go," says Lesley Mitchell, a former Lumberjack editor now working as a business reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.
The Lumberjack, published every Wednesday, is considered a semi-independent school paper. The student editor, picked by a publication board (typically made up of a few professors and some "real-world" professional journalists), hires the staff and is totally responsible for the paper's content. The paper's staffers don't receive any class credit for their work, but are paid through advertising sales. The university provides office space and pays half the salary of the paper's faculty adviser. The paper has a free circulation of 13,000 and is distributed both on and off campus.
Editorially, the Lumberjack--like almost all college newspapers--is a totally independent entity, protected by high-court rulings from meddling administrators.
Such rulings have not discouraged Eugene Hughes from at least trying. Since the mid-1980s, Hughes or his minions have called for several official reviews of the paper's status. In that time, several veteran journalism profs have left the university. More recently, Hughes has regularly called (over the telephone or onto the carpet) the student editors and/or faculty advisers to bitterly complain--some would say nit-pick--about the paper's content.
The editors typically withstand the Hughes barrage for a semester or two, then move on. A similar pattern exists for the faculty advisers. Mollie Altizer, the Lumberjack's current adviser, says she's the 11th such adviser in a decade. Manny Romero, an associate professor of journalism who's been at the university since the mid-1970s, says the average length of stay for an adviser has been 1.7 years.
"Whenever the administration was unhappy with something they see in the newspaper--I don't think this is unique to our administration--they tend to take it out on the adviser," says Romero. "There's a lot of pressure put on the adviser."
Hughes also has ridiculed the student newspaper in public speeches, Romero says. And Hughes has established a statewide reputation for jumpiness around reporters. (Just one example: When the Arizona Republic conducted an investigation of the school's athletic department two years ago, the NAU administration attempted to bill that newspaper more than $5,000 for copying and research cost associated with the probe. Needless to say, the bill is still way past due.)
"I have to say that the president does not respond well to criticism," says J-school prof Romero. "You could characterize his attitude as being hostile to extremely hostile."
Finding examples of Hughes' hostility for campus reporters does not require much of an investigation.
In recent years, a series of Lumberjack editors have battled the administration over the release of campus sexual-assault crime reports. One editor was told by a campus police official that the policy to withhold details of the assaults "came from the top." The editors and other observers believe that Hughes has fought the release of the police reports because the news would tarnish the university image.
There have been several more ivory tower-newsroom clashes. According to faculty members and current and former editors, the following Lumberjack stories have caused Hughes' stomach to churn over the past several semesters:
ù One student editor was called to Hughes' office following her publication of a story carrying the headline "Tribe battles university in cultural conflict." The story below the headline reported on a public forum called to discuss a mild dispute between Hopi tribal leaders and the university (some of the tribe members were upset that an NAU professor was attempting to publish a book containing sacred tribal secrets). A photograph of Hughes speaking at the forum also ran with the story. Hughes complained to the student editor that the headline's spin was too negative. "The headline was accurate," says adviser Altizer. "His concern was how the university was portrayed."