Butler University replaces journalism advisor with campus PR rep, free speech compromised

Despite misgivings and criticisms about the school and its questionable conduct, the University of Connecticut is very good about affording free reign to The Daily Campus. There are certain lines that don’t get crossed, particularly within this section, but for the most part, the paper possesses a much-appreciated control over its content. Thus, it is sad to see a fellow university not treat its paper with the same degree of respect and autonomy. 

Loni McKown was the faculty advisor to the Butler University newspaper, The Collegian. Joining the Butler staff in 2009, this was her sixth year as adviser. While serving this position, the paper garnered several awards on the regional, state and national tiers. She was well liked among the student journalists and also taught programs such as “journalism boot-camp.” However, on Sept. 4, Gary Edgerton, dean of the College of Communications, dismissed McKown from her role. 

The grounds of her removal are unclear, but McKown herself refers to the relations between the Butler administration and The Collegian as “hostile.” Edgerton considered McKown to be “too investigative” and her advised students “too aggressive.”

Tensions came to head when the advisor accidentally forwarded an e-mail sent by Edgerton marked “confidential,” using its contents –looming budget cuts attributed to projected lower student enrollment– as a tip for the paper. McKown immediately apologized when realizing her mistake, but the dean clearly deemed it unforgivable. 

She has since been replaced by Marc Allan, a spokesperson for Butler. Allan has a strong background in journalism, having worked as a reporter (predominately for the Indianapolis Star) for 24 years and teaching a handful of journalism and communications classes at the college, but serving as advisor in tandem with his current job is problematic.

There is an obvious conflict of interest in having a university’s public relations representative preside over an entity that seeks to call an administration out on its errs and injustices, if necessary. The media is, at least in theory, meant to impose checks and balances on an administrative body by informing its readers of the undiluted truth.

There are more issues with Allan’s appointment. The Collegian’s handbook requires its advisor “is a full-time faculty member in the School of Journalism.” Allan violates this, as he is a full-time spokesperson for the school. Moreover, the handbook states “the adviser is selected by the director of the School of Journalism and in consultation with the current The Collegian leadership and may serve in that capacity indefinitely at the discretion of the director and The Collegian staff.” Allan’s appointment definitely contradicts this. 

Considering all the convoluted ways dean Edgerton went about his replacing and hiring, the entire situation reeks of free speech repression.