Taking a hard look…
An investigation of of allegations of institutions placing advisers under scrutiny is not entered into lightly. College Media Association, however, has a mechanism in place to quickly move into investigation mode when required.
Advisers who perform their duties in compliance with CMA's Code of Ethical Behavior and who find themselves punished as a result, may activate CMA’s Adviser Advocate Program. Trained CMA advocates will investigate cases. Action from CMA may include efforts to mediate and/or intervene with educational sessions at the school, and if necessary CMA will officially censure an institution and bring attention to its actions in the local and national press. Here CMA’s listing of Censured Schools.
No media adviser is immune.
The incidents occur at small community colleges and large state universities, impacting advisers new to the field and veterans who are among the nation’s most respected. The stories of advisers being punished, removed, reassigned and otherwise maligned at the hands of college and university administrators and student government officials are all too frequent. An article elsewhere in this edition chronicles just a few recent cases.
In response to what appears to be a growing number of these situations, the CMA Board of Directors approved the CMA Adviser Advocate Policy at its March 17, 1998 meeting in New York. The Advocate Policy offers a formal process to support an existing section of the CMA Code of Ethical Behavior that reads: “Membership in College Media Advisers, Inc., signifies acceptance of this code and a willingness to abide by its tenets. The organization will support those members who adhere to this code and thereby become victims of negative pressure or negative action from within the university. This may involve formal censure of the offending institution of higher education.”
Advisers who work long enough, which sometimes is only a matter of weeks, will inevitably encounter ethical dilemmas, confrontations with those who object to the content of student media, exposure to potential liability, threats of job loss or punitive measures, and direct challenges to personal and professional belief systems. Unlike the situation for others in the academic community, when trouble erupts media advisers often find themselves standing alone, as the only professional on campus working with the student press. It is appropriate that CMA, which expects high standards of professionalism from its members, use its position as a national association in higher education to come to the aid of advisers who are punished for upholding those standards.
The Advocate Policy, which is reprinted below in its entirety, evolved to include features that would both serve CMA members and protect the association. A first concern was that the process of intervention be quickly and easily activated by an adviser when needed. Another concern was that the individuals who investigated incidents and acted on behalf of CMA be experienced advisers who were well-versed in the principles and philosophies of the organization. This led to the creation of the Adviser Advocate Committee, composed exclusively of CMA members trained in mediation and investigation of alleged violations of student and adviser rights, who serve to investigate charges raised by advisers, a process that may begin with a simple telephone call.
It should be noted that the types of incidents that the policy is designed to address are limited to disputes that arise from an adviser’s job performance in adherence to the principles outlined in the CMA Code of Ethical Behavior. Examples of situations in which the policy would apply include reprimand, demotion, reassignment, or dismissal as the result of an adviser’s unwillingness to abridge students’ First Amendment guarantees, for advocating or teaching student press rights, or as retaliation for material disseminated by the student press.
The ultimate goal of the policy is to resolve the dispute that precipitated CMA involvement, using strategies such as increasing awareness of educational, ethical and legal student media issues, direct mediation and the notice of likely heightened media scrutiny. If all attempts to resolve the issue fail, the policy allows the very serious option of censure. According to the policy, censure is defined as a formal resolution by CMA that officially reprimands and condemns an institution as oppressive of students rights to free expression and hostile toward those professionals it employs to advise the student press.
The policy reads as follows:
Statement of Intent
College Media Association, as a national association of higher education professionals, exists to promote established standards and practices in college media advising as described in CMA’s Code of Ethical Behavior. Membership in College Media Association signifies acceptance of this code and a willingness to abide by its tenets. The organization will support those members who adhere to this code and thereby become victims of pressure or negative action from within the university. This may involve formal censure of the offending institution of higher education. To facilitate the timely and appropriate response to allegations of administrative attacks on media advisers, CMA has established an Adviser Advocate Committee with the responsibility and authority to proceed as outlined herein.
Adviser Advocate Committee
I. Committee Description and Purpose
The CMA Adviser Advocate Committee is composed of experienced advisers who are respected in their field, whose expertise in the standards and practices of advising espoused by CMA is undisputed, and who serve as articulate spokespersons on behalf of CMA. The Committee exists to provide a mechanism for member advisers to activate when faced with threatened or actual attacks from administrators related to job performance while in compliance with CMA principles.
II. Committee Membership
CMA members with five or more years of active membership in the association are eligible to apply to serve on the committee. Those selected by the Committee Chair to participate must complete special training in mediation and investigation of alleged violations of adviser and student rights. The Chairperson of the Committee is appointed by the CMA President and approved by the CMA Board of Directors.
The Committee will operate on an ad hoc basis. Its members will participate on an as-needed basis at the discretion of the Chair.
1. Scope of Authority
Any CMA member adviser may request Adviser Advocate Assistance when he or she is unable to resolve through other reasonable means disputes that result in pressure or negative action from university administrators. The cause of action for the dispute must arise from the adviser’s job performance in adherence to the principles outlined in the CMA Code of Ethical Behavior. CMA has a compelling interest in preventing the punishment of advisers who advocate the free expression rights of students. Adviser disputes with administrators that arise from job performance, personnel, budgetary, or other institutional actions based on policy or procedural grounds lie outside the scope of CMA and will not be addressed by the Adviser Advocate Committee. Actions that would warrant CMA intervention include, but are not limited to, threats of or actual job reprimand, demotion, reassignment, or dismissal as the result of an adviser’s unwillingness to abridge students’ First Amendment guarantees, for advocating or teaching student press rights, or as retaliation for material disseminated by the student press.
2. Activation of Assistance
To initiate Adviser Advocate Assistance, a member adviser must contact the Committee Chair either in person or by telephone. If the Chair cannot be immediately reached, an adviser may contact either the CMA Executive Director or the CMA President, either of whom will attempt to place the adviser in contact with the Chair. If the adviser deems the situation emergent and the Chair is unavailable, the CMA President may serve as the initial contact. The Chair will make a summary determination concerning whether the adviser’s dispute warrants Adviser Advocate Assistance based on details provided during the initial contact. If the adviser’s initial request for assistance is denied by the Chair, the adviser may appeal that decision to the CMA Board of Directors by contacting the CMA Executive Director in writing. Any subsequent decision on the matter by the Board is considered final.
3. Assignment of Principal Investigator
If the Chair determines the adviser’s dispute may benefit from Adviser Advocate Assistance, the Chair shall immediately request the adviser to provide any relevant documentation and evidence describing the situation of concern. Additionally, the Chair will, as quickly as is possible, assign a Principal Investigator from among the Committee’s membership. The assignment will be based upon factors such as a Committee member’s geographic proximity to the institution of the aggrieved adviser; the member’s availability; the member’s familiarity with the institution at issue; and the member’s areas of expertise. The Chair may also serve as the Principal Investigator.
4. Investigation Procedures
The Principal Investigator will contact the aggrieved adviser and review all documentation provided. The Investigator will maintain detailed records of all aspects of the case, including conversations, copies of correspondence, etc. The Investigator may use his or her discretion to gather facts and analyze the case. This may include contacting administrators, students, visiting the campus involved, and conferring with other Adviser Advocate Committee members and staff from the Student Press Law Center. If deemed appropriate by the Investigator, at the earliest possible opportunity a formal letter under CMA letterhead from the Investigator should be sent to the appropriate ranking university administrator. This letter should alert the institution that a request for assistance was received, briefly outline the mission and concerns of CMA, and either request information or offer assistance toward resolving the dispute. If cursory efforts by the Investigator result in resolution of the dispute, then a report stating so will be provided to both the Committee Chair and CMA President. If each agree with the Investigator’s conclusions, a formal letter under CMA letterhead from the CMA President will be sent to both the adviser and the institution confirming resolution of the dispute. If the Investigator determines that the dispute both warrants CMA intervention and cannot be immediately resolved, then a report to that effect will be provided to both the Committee Chair and CMA President. If each agree with the Investigator’s conclusions, a formal letter under CMA letterhead from the CMA President will be sent to both the adviser and the institution soliciting additional information, offering mediation or other resolution assistance, and outlining the gravity of the situation with respect to CMA and the potential consequences of a negative outcome.
If the Investigator determines upon the exhaustion of all reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute that the problematic administrative action stands and is in significant conflict with CMA’s established standards and practices for advising and the student press, then a report stating so will be provided to both the Committee Chair and CMA President. If each agree with the Investigator’s conclusions, the Committee Chair will bring to the CMA Board of Directors a proposal to censure the college or university involved. For the purposes of this document, censure is a formal resolution by the CMA national association that officially reprimands and condemns an institution as oppressive of students rights to free expression and hostile toward those professionals it employs to advise the student press. Censure requires CMA Board approval.
6. Consequences of Censure
The president or chancellor of institutions officially censured will receive a formal letter under CMA letterhead from the CMA President declaring the censure along with the reasoning for the action. The CMA President will notify the CMA membership of the censure, and call for members to write letters of concern to administrators, board members, and other individuals of influence at the censured institution. The CMA President will also notify the student press at the institution; the local commercial press in the institution’s city; the state press agencies in the institution’s state; the department of higher education or regulating agency in the institution’s state; the Chronicle of Higher Education; and other media outlets relevant to higher education.
7. Removal of Censure
CMA institutional censure continues until officially removed by action of the Board of Directors. The request for censure removal must come in writing from either a ranking administrator at the institution or from a CMA adviser at the institution and be directed to the CMA President. The request must either include, or be followed by, documentation supporting a resolution of concerns that led to the censure. Upon receipt of documentation, the CMA President will direct the Adviser Advocate Committee Chair to investigate the veracity of resolution claims. The Chair may elect to conduct this investigation or appoint a Committee member to do so. Upon completion of this follow-up investigation, a report will be submitted to the CMA President with a recommendation either for or against censure removal. The CMA Board will then take action on the recommendation. If Board action removes the censure, then the President will send letters declaring such to the institution’s president or chancellor, and to as many agencies and media outlets originally notified of the censure as is reasonably possible.