Statement regarding The Mirror from Thomas C. Pellegrino, Assoc. V.P. and Dean of Students
To the University Community:
Over the past several days, much attention has been given to the issues surrounding the student newspaper, The Mirror. While the various issues presented here are diverse and complex, I want to provide information and clarification on two key points. One relates to the funding agreement between the school and the paper. The second relates to the harassment complaints filed by several undergraduate students against the Mirror.
First, the question has been raised as to whether the University has terminated the funding agreement with the Mirror. The answer is no; the University has not terminated its agreement with the paper. The Mirror continues to function as it has since inception of this matter.
As noted in the October 9, 2009 letter, it was not, and is not, the desire of the University to have the newspaper cease operations. It is critical that a student newspaper be free from prior censorship, while also taking genuine advantage of rigorous post-publication advisement, and striving for the highest level of journalistic standards applicable to college newspapers. With that said, when the Mirror signed the funding agreement, it agreed to be bound by the terms of the agreement. It is important to examine the manner in which the Mirror makes itself accountable to its own agreed upon standards and those of the AP.
The Mirror was given the opportunity to review, and agreed to review and revise its code to address the issues presented by the content contained in the "He Said/She Said" column. The Mirror provided a response that was hand delivered to me and appears in this week's edition of the paper. That response is now being considered.
Second, many questions have been raised as to the harassment claims filed against the Mirror by several undergraduate students. These harassment complaints are separate and distinct from the issues mentioned above regarding the funding agreement.
Between October 1, 2009 and October 5, 2009, four Fairfield University undergraduate students filed incident reports with the Department of Public Safety claiming that content appearing in the "He Said" portion of the "He Said/She Said" column of The Mirror (Volume 35, Issue 5) violated Fairfield University's Harassment/Equal Education Opportunity Policy (Student Handbook, 2009-2010, pp. 45-46).
Fairfield University's Harassment/Equal Educational Opportunity policy is prescriptive with respect to the handling of reports: If a student files a report against another student, the matter is to be processed through the student conduct process. The students who filed the complaints in this matter have a right to have their complaints heard if that is the course they choose.
This is to the best of my knowledge, the first time the University harassment policy has been triggered in response to content contained in the student newspaper. This is a challenging issue, but it also provides us with an opportunity to address the question of the newspaper's accountability to those students who claim to be aggrieved by its content.
Mediation has been proposed to the students involved in the filed complaints. It is critical that the values regarding both freedom of expression and those articulated by the voices of our student protestors be given primary attention.
Thomas C. Pellegrino
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students
Posted on November 16, 2009