A Hit Below the Belt

La Salle University, a private Catholic university, has a weekly paper titled the Collegian. For more than a week the paper’s editorial staff has been negotiating with officials over a potentially embarrassing and revealing article. The article is about Jack Rappaport, a business management professor at the university, held a symposium on ethics in March, where allegedly there were “professional dancers” performing in a risqué manner.

On March 24, “three days after the professor held an off-campus symposium,” Vinny Vella, 20, the paper’s executive editor, received a tip. Vella assigned the story to Luke Harold. Harold interviewed university officials, spoke with professor Rappaport and students who had attended the symposium. The story was ready to be published on April 7, but James E. Moore, dean of students, told Vella he would have to wait to publish the story until “the university completed its own investigation into the matter.” However, on April 8, a City Paper blog broke the story. The report included anonymous sources and information conflicted with Harold’s eyewitness accounts. As more and more outlets picked up the story, Collegian could only prepare a well-written and authoritative article. On April 14, the dean of students once again told Vella that the publication of the story would need to wait since the school was still investigating. Later that afternoon the dean gave Vella permission to run the story, but it must first be read and approved by the university lawyer. On Tuesday, the paper received permission to run the story “as-is.” But, on Wednesday when they sought permission to run the story across the top of the front page, permission was denied. The dean advised the paper that they should run the story “below the fold.” Vella didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds the paper so he abided by the request. However, the top half of the front page—above the fold—was left blank except for four small words: See below the fold.

Since La Salle is a private university, which makes La Salle responsible for the Collegian’s content. This situation really limits the paper’s ability and edginess. The paper’s managing editor even admits that “I want to keep our relationship with the administration professional and largely pleasant because they do pay our bills. This raises the question of whether the paper’s fear of “biting the hand that feeds them” would slant the paper’s coverage and perhaps even their coverage of sensitive topics. I think that I would have not waited as long as the Collegian to run the story. I think that their coverage was sufficient and much more accurate than that of outside outlets like the City Paper. I have a feeling that the dean of students didn’t even read the article that the paper wanted to publish in the beginning. I think that when a story like this presents itself, especially on a private university campus, the closest and most credible journalistic outlet should take first stab because they are at the heart of it. I think that the Collegian is just that.