The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student Handbook, editorial freedom and holding administration accountable

The Student Handbook, editorial freedom and holding administration accountable

 Since 1968, Macalester’s Student Handbook has guaranteed that student media shall remain free of censorship, are free to develop their own editorial policies and are not subject to prior review of copy by administration or faculty. 

In July 2023, the clause stating protecting student media’s rights was quietly removed from the Handbook by Macalester’s Division of Student Affairs. No student media organizations, nor any students, were notified of this change. For nine months, Macalester’s Student Handbook contained no language that guaranteed student editorial freedom. 

In March 2024, after months of work and research by The Mac Weekly staff, Vice President of Student Affairs Kathryn Kay Coquemont added the language back into the Handbook. We are writing this editorial to document its removal and our struggles in getting it back, and hold this and future administrations accountable to their commitment to students’ free speech. 

Macalester College’s policy concerning student media, located under section 3.6, reads as follows: 

Student Media 

1. The student media such as student-produced radio, newspapers, literary or opinion magazines or journals, video and film shall remain free of censorship and prior review of copy, and its editor(s) and manager(s) are free to develop their own editorial policies. 

2. Editors and managers of student media are protected from arbitrary suspension and removal from office because of student, faculty, administrative or public disapproval of editorial policy or content. Only for proper and stated causes are editors and managers subject to removal (see below), and then by orderly and prescribed procedures. 

3. All student media must explicitly state that the opinions therein expressed are not necessarily those of the College community. 

4. The freedom accorded student editors and managers entails adherence to the canons of responsible journalism and reporting, e.g., the avoidance of libel, indecency, undocumented allegations, attacks on personal integrity, harassment, and slanderous innuendo. 

5. Charges of violation of the items noted above shall be dealt with through the College’s judicial and mediation process.

The student media section is a part of the “Students Rights, Freedoms, and Responsibilities Document” (SRFR). The SRFR includes other policies on individual expression, demonstrations, access to information and civil rights. It was created in collaboration with students and faculty in the 1960s and first lived on the pages of The Mac Weekly and shortly after the “Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook” in 1968. It was adopted by Macalester’s governing body, the Board of Trustees (BoT), in 1975 and revised in 1986 to be the version it is today. Today, the entirety of the SRFR document is located in our Student Handbook under section 3.6 and upheld by the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) Constitution. The student media portion was the only section in the Handbook’s SRFR removed in July. 

The BoT, agreed upon this policy and have not changed it since. The administration violated the BoT’s policy in its removal.

A member of The Mac Weekly doing independent research on journalism standards accidentally discovered its absence from the Student Handbook during correspondence with their independent study advisor. Following this discovery, we made it our mission to get the language back. First The Mac Weekly editorial board, other student media organizations and trusted professors were informed. Ultimately, we brought the issue to our advisor and administration.

On March 5, The Mac Weekly editors-in-chief met with Coquemont, Dean of Students Javier Gutierrez — who oversees the changes to the Handbook — and our staff advisor Laurie Adamson to discuss the Handbook change. They told us the language could not return and offered confusing and conflicting justifications and solutions. They claimed there was a general overhaul in the Handbook and wanted to remove organization-specific language. For solutions, they suggested changing the language, or moving this language to another space such as a student media board or the Student Organization Handbook. There was no sense of urgency in their suggestions. 

 Independent from us, however, news of the change spread. Once staff and faculty became aware of the language change, questions around student media’s independence, censorship and administration’s role in our paper circulated. 

A group of faculty, not affiliated with students or student media, created a motion to pressure the administration into putting this language back into the Handbook and met with Coquemont about its removal. 

On March 15, 2024, our editors-in-chief received an email that the Handbook would return to its original format. The language was added back to the Handbook on March 18, 2024. 

In Coquemont’s email and at the faculty meeting on March 19, Coquemont and President Suzanne Rivera said that they were unaware of the ratified BoT agreement from 1986 as stated in the Student Handbook. They said it was an oversight and not an attempt to “undermine journalistic integrity.” 

We would like to clarify that at no time from July 2023 to March 2024 did the college ever actively censor or try to censor The Mac Weekly. 

The Mac Weekly is not financially independent from Macalester; our printing costs are funded through MCSG and the student activity fee, as is common for college newspapers. 

Additionally, all student media is legally tied to their institution. In terms of censorship and editorial review, neither Macalester nor any other private institution is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Instead, each institution creates its own policies regarding student freedom of speech, including student media. 

In regards to the lack of oversight in the Handbook, future changes to the Student Handbook will now have to go through a student committee and be reported to MCSG in a public meeting, thanks to a policy created by MCSG this year.

None of these clarifications change the fact that the only language protecting student media from censorship was removed and would have remained so indefinitely if students did not find out and fight to change it. 

We published this editorial because we feel we have the responsibility to record what happened this year — for ourselves, for our classmates, for future writers and for all student journalists who face censorship. It was surprisingly easy to take the language out of the student handbook. In future years, we fear it would be surprisingly easy to deny independence again.

The preamble of the SRFR reads, “Macalester College exists for the transmission of knowledge and the pursuit of truth. Free inquiry, free expression and responsibly free activity are indispensable to the attainment of these goals.” If student media is anything less than editorially independent, Macalester has failed these goals, and it has failed its students.


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