On Friday Oct. 26, it was discovered that copies of Valparaiso University’s student newspaper, The Torch, were removed from Kretzmann Hall because staff members were concerned that the headlines would give prospective students a negative impression of the university.
While delivering new issues on Oct. 26, Torch News Editor Chris Likeness found no issues from the previous week to retrieve. He was informed by Joan Helvie, a Visit Coordinator at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, that the headlines of the Oct. 17 issue “VU Student Found Dead” and the Oct. 26 issue “Maxey Leaves VU” caused concern, and that these issues were removed from Kretzmann.
When questioned further about the removal of issues, Helvie declined to comment.
Director of Media Relations Nicole Niemi released this statement Nov. 13 in response to the incident: “The Torch has been publishing news stories for the Valparaiso University community, giving a voice to students, since 1915. The University values the independent student-run newspaper and supports the endeavors of the reporters to cover campus news. We regret the removal of several issues of the Torch from Kretzmann Hall and commit to displaying all future issues.”
Kretzmann Hall was the only known building on campus from which the issues were removed. For some staff and students at VU, the removal of the issues in even a single building raises ethical concerns that prompted discomfort.
“I would definitely call it a form of censorship,” said junior Abby Christiansen. “Maybe not directly, but you’re taking away a news source.”
Theology professor Matthew Becker stated he would not necessarily call the incident censorship.
“(It is) coming up against a line that I personally am uncomfortable with,” Becker said. “I think we somehow damage our integrity when we do that.”
Junior James Lockridge found that his opinion of the issue changed as he considered it from different perspectives. Primarily, he believed the Kretzmann staff was wrong.
“I feel that all the information out there should be available to anyone who wants it,” Lockridge said.
Lockridge, who is in charge of public relations for VU’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, then considered the issue from a public relations perspective.
“I can understand why they took it out of Kretzmann. For incoming students I can understand not having those displayed,” Lockridge said. “I don’t know if I even consider that censorship.”
English professor John Ruff wondered whether the university was remaining true to its mission of leadership and service in its actions.
“Does the university care more about marketing?” Ruff asked. The answer, he felt, was open to interpretation, but he was uncomfortable with “the suppression of a student newspaper in a particular place.”
“In a perfect world, we’d never have bad news,” Ruff said. “Ultimately, you have to deal with it. If people in Kretzmann Hall either hid or destroyed newspapers to preserve our image, I don’t think that was a good idea.”
Becker echoed Ruff’s sentiments, saying that The Torch has a responsibility to investigate and present the news honestly.
“We should not be afraid of the truth when bad things happen,” Becker said.
Lockridge also expressed the view that the quality of The Torch should be emphasized over the negative headlines. He believes The Torch presents students with an opportunity to exercise free speech on campus.
“Although I do understand the campus image it might project to students, I feel like it is kind of a neutral point,” Lockridge said.
Also, Lockridge questioned whether simply taking The Torch from one building restricts anyone’s access to the articles, even prospective students.
“The student probably has a higher chance of finding those articles online rather than picking them up in Kretzmann,” Lockridge said.
Becker compared the incident to situations on other campuses where administration had hidden student publications that “may raise some eyebrows from parents.” Removing the issues from one building at VU was a mild case in comparison.
“This is not unique. It has happened at other schools as well,” Becker said.
While he does not question the staff of Kretzmann Hall’s responsibility for what is displayed in its building, Becker worries about the attitude presented toward prospective students in hiding information about the university from them.
“What’s the difference between our students on campus and students who want to come on campus?” Becker said.
Junior Alex Harris, on the other hand, felt that Kretzmann acted in the university’s best interests.
“Originally I thought that they should allow students, especially incoming students, to know what they are getting into,” Harris said.
However, he later decided that the headlines would misrepresent the university.
“First impressions, they last,” Harris said. “Right away you are going to think poorly of the school. I think the school is a great school.”
Contact Kristen Menke at email@example.com.