This week, the university, through the office of President Dan Martin, did something for the first time in decades: it ordered a prepublication review of one of the Falcon’s news stories. An email sent on Monday, April 8, by Martin’s executive assistant, directed that The Falcon submit this week’s article on the resignation, at Martin’s request, of Provost Jeff Van Duzer to their legal team for review.
The email read as follows: “President Martin asked me to email you regarding the article you are preparing for the Falcon. Given that it is related to an employment matter, we will need to have legal review it prior to submission for publication to ensure that we are in legal compliance.”
Because Seattle Pacific University is a private university, we know that the protections of the First Amendment do not extend to the student body. So when we received the order, we knew we had to comply. At the same time the language in the email was vague and nonspecific, leaving us with no idea what legal issues were in question.
We were unsure as to which part of the article might cause them to call “legal compliance” into question, and what their motivation was for selecting this article for review.
All information for the article came from emails distributed to faculty and interviews with Martin, Van Duzer and Bruce Congdon, who will be serving as interim provost. In fact, we received the order for review after News Editor Julia Battishill interviewed Martin, but before she had completed her other interviews for the story.
After reviewing the article ourselves, and asking our advisor Rick Jackson review it as well, we could not find any information that could raise legal issues. When we gave the university a copy of the article on Monday, April 15, we asked the university for clarification what legal issues it had in mind. On Tuesday, April 16, the university informed The Falcon “The article has been reviewed and we see no legal concerns,” but we received no clarification on the reasons for its concerns.
So again we ask, what exactly are the legal issues being raised? What is it about this story and this event that raised concerns?
Though The Falcon has written about faculty and staff being let go in the past, the university has not asked to review a story for at least several decades. Is this a one-time incident? Is this a precedent for what might happen every time there is concern over our coverage? Is this going to happen every time The Falcon covers a significant personal decision?
Though the university made no changes in the article about Van Duzer, we wonder what our options would be if they had changed the article or banned it altogether.
The Falcon is here to inform our community on what happens in and around SPU. The removal of Provost Van Duzer was known by faculty and staff, but not by many members of the student body. As student journalists, how can we feel safe to approach topics and events such as this one, without fear of censorship and university intervention, when we can’t even get a clear-cut response on reasons for review?
Sincerely, Saya Meza, Editor-in-Chief