The sudden shut down of the Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) student newspaper, the Chronicle, is an educational disaster for CNM. An outright act of censorship, the closure of the paper makes CNM seem like a bush league school. And, of course, it is not. CNM is a fine institution with dedicated professors and excellent students. It has had an enormously positive influence on our city and our state.
But the closure of the Chronicle is a grave mistake. It flies in the face of the First Amendment and it leaves a terrible message to the state’s journalistic community -- and to students who want to learn to become reporters and editors.
CNM reportedly closed the paper after it published what administrators considered to be a raunchy issue on sex. Editor-in-Chief of the Chronicle, Jyllian Roach, considers it an educational issue on a universal subject undergoing constant cultural evolution.
CNM considered the edition in poor judgment, and then tried to finesse its behavior saying that it was rethinking how it wants to handle journalism education. The closure came with no warning, no planning, no nothing. The Chronicle has in recent months taken on CNM’s administration for its treatment of certain instructors and other issues.
The affect of the closure is that the Chronicle’s editor and staff have been treated like second class citizens by an institution which operates on public money in a nation governed by a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. An abrupt closure of a student newspaper over issues of content is not the way to represent those values if you believe in them.
Tom Popejoy believed in them. Popejoy was the University of New Mexico’s president from 1948 to 1968. In the middle of the McCarthy era, Popejoy addressed the state convention of the American Legion in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The Legion had called for various sanctions against UNM for the opinions of the editors of its student newspaper the Daily Lobo, and for the refusal on the part of many faculty members to sign loyalty oaths.
Always a courageous fighter for First Amendment values, Popejoy told the Legionnaires that what they were advocating was perilously close to policies and sentiments of the totalitarian states they thought they were opposing.
He cited Hitler’s control of the University Munich and the execution of some of its students and a professor, saying that “the Munich University incident is a harsh lesson of what controlled thinking can mean in a university community.”
“Controlled thinking.” That’s what censorship is about. As Popejoy said, a “free university can afford heresy, but it cannot tolerate the dictates of a conspiratorial government,” externally, or I believe internally either.
The Chronicle published an edition on sexual issues in a time of fascinating social changes around sexual practices, customs, and laws governing marriage, homosexuality, and other human relationships. That’s no heresy. And even it was, a self-respecting institution of higher education would have let the staff and the editor have their say and contribute to the cultural discussion.
Instead, CNM shut them up, closed the paper, took the issue off the stands, and banished the staff to work-studies tasks.
President Popejoy said the controlled thought of students turns them into second class citizens. And then, in a brilliant stroke, he quoted William C. Sullivan, the Assistant Director to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. “The individual has the necessary volition and capacity to be self-governing. Hence, there must be freedom under law for every individual – freedom of thought, expression, action, inquiry, dissent, investigation, education, and worship.”
What a terrible thing it is to think that student journalists at CNM have been denied the majority of those freedoms.