By Sarah McGrew and Katie Trojano (Co-Editors-in-Chief) with contributions from Benjamin Purper (Co-Editor-in-Chief) and Lucas Poppel (Staff Writer)
You can see much of campus from the stairs of the University of Redlands’ administration building. In fact, it’s one of the most photographed locations at the university. Sitting on those stairs in January of 2015, we looked out over tall rows of palm trees, the too-green quad, the elegant structure of the chapel, and the placid San Bernardino Mountains in the distance. Students, usually fixated on their smartphones, paused to observe our unusual campus protest. On their way to class they passed handwritten signs that read, “Freedom of Speech!” and “Bring the Bulldog Weekly Back!”
On December 10, 2014, our student newspaper, the Bulldog Weekly, had been put on hiatus. A month later newspaper staff, supportive students, and faculty gathered on the administration building steps to speak out against the hiatus as a violation of free speech and free press. As the rally began co-editors-in-chief of the paper, Taylor Jordan Holmes and Morgan York, recounted how the paper had been unexpectedly shut down. Then, one by one, students and faculty rose to express their discontent, protesting what seemed like censorship. We, two former reporters and section editors on the student newspaper, were among the demonstrators that day: Sarah, a sophomore from New Mexico, and Katie, a freshman from Boston.
While we considered it significant that the protest was happening, we also felt uncertain about it. How many of those who had shown up to the protest in solidarity with the Bulldog Weekly had previously supported the paper as regular readers? How many would go on to read the paper if it were to be reinstated? How much good could this protest do in the long run? At the time we felt powerless to protect our free speech, a conflict that would eventually become the focal point of our college education.
Two years have passed since then. In writing this article, we have tried to understand the sequence of events as they unfolded and their later consequences. We embarked on this investigation to tell the complete story of the Bulldog Weekly—not only as a reminder of our school’s history, but also to discover who we are as young female journalists within the greater context of media under siege.
On that January day, Maggie Ruopp was one of many who rose to speak. Ruopp, a Johnston Center junior at the time, had been the recipient of the Larry and Char Burgess endowed scholarship. In her speech, she alluded to a past case of censorship on campus: “I was reading about the 1960s when the Bulldog Weekly was fighting the administration because they felt they were being censored… this has been an ongoing issue, perhaps since the founding of this university, definitely since the 1960s.” Ruopp’s insight mirrors what we’ve come to understand during our investigation into the Bulldog Weekly hiatus and the history of students struggling to protect free speech on our university’s campus.
In April of 1967, the University of Redlands was still immersed in conservative Cold War politics. In defiance of a McCarthy-era campus ban on Communist speakers, ASUR president and former Bulldog Weekly Editor-in-Chief Don Stillman and 22 other students invited Bettina Aptheker, a member of the American Communist Party and prominent member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, to debate conservative senior honors student Dave Kramer.
Stillman and his peers didn’t know how far the administration and board of trustees would go to quash the unsanctioned debate. Would he and the others be expelled for standing their ground, and consequently risk losing their student deferments which had kept them from being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War?
Members of the 1967 Bulldog Weekly staff, which was opposed to the speaker ban, covered her presence as if it were a legitimate event, contributing to its power as a protest. After a rousing speech from Stillman, an overflow crowd of nearly 1,000 students and faculty gathered to watch as Aptheker argued against the Vietnam War while Kramer advocated in favor of it. Reflecting upon the event years later, Stillman says, “I think the audience realized they were at an event that could change Redlands in a significant way… that gave it an electric atmosphere.”
Soon after the debate, Stillman and his 22 co-organizers received letters notifying them of their suspension from the University of Redlands. Those of the group who were seniors were able to graduate in the spring, but the message about free speech had already been sent to the student body.
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In the fall of 2014, alumni Richard “Rich” and Virginia “Ginnie” Hunsaker (class of ‘52) donated 35 million dollars to the University of Redlands. It was the largest donation the couple had ever made to the school, and was intended to fund a scholarship in their name: “The Hunsaker Scholarship Prize.” The scholarship would ostensibly cover the cost of each recipient’s full tuition. The University’s initial press release stated that the scholarships would be granted “based on demonstrated academic excellence, entrepreneurial spirit, and community service.”
News of the scholarship was met with approval by many who expected that it would reach out to prospective students from underprivileged areas who might otherwise not be able to attend such an expensive private university. However, minor criticism arose as the criteria in the press release was scrutinized. Some students noted the phrase “entrepreneurial spirit” and became concerned that the scholarship might be limited to prospective business students and would not actually help many underprivileged students, who might wish to study in the arts or humanities.
Shortly after the donation was announced, Chris Munroe, a senior Johnston student and Bulldog Weekly staff writer at the time, was assigned to report on the story. As part of her coverage, Monroe gathered quotes from various students. One of the quotes she included expressed a student’s opinion that the scholarship was directed towards “rich, white males.”
When the article was published on the front page of the Bulldog Weekly, it caused consternation among administrators, who had long cultivated the goodwill of alumni donors. Almost as soon as the papers were placed in their usual spots, on news racks in the common areas of campus, observers noticed that they had been removed. The speed and efficiency with which they were removed spoke to a deliberate effort. While speculation remains regarding who pulled the papers, members of the Bulldog Weekly staff believed their removal to be an intentional rebuke. They referred to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) opinion that “newspaper theft is a crime. It is also a terribly effective form of censorship.”
A few days after the story was published, Munroe was approached in the library by ASUR President Adam Gottlieb. Munroe recalls, “I had a conversation with Adam. It was informal. I ran into him in the library and he said something like, ‘You can’t write that!’” Later that day, Gottlieb text-messaged Munroe requesting that she join him in a private meeting to discuss the article with Denise Davis, then the Director of Leadership and Involvement—a position in which she reported directly to Char Burgess, the Dean of Student Life. No one from ASUR or the administration contacted Katie, the news editor, Holmes and York, the editors-in-chief of the paper, or Erin Aubry Kaplan, the paper’s advisor. In the days to come, members of ASUR and administrators would claim that after reviewing the paper there were issues and concerns “regarding journalistic ethics, accurate reporting, student representation, the advisory structure of the Bulldog Weekly, and the fact that nearly $40,000 in student activity fees are spent yearly on a newspaper with low readership.” In an email responding to alumni Matt Greene’s questions about the hiatus, Denise Davis replied that it was “not an issue of censorship, but rather an issue of good ethical journalism. ASUR decided that it was not a good representation of the student voice,” she continued. “We found that the quote in question (about the Hunsaker Prize being for ‘rich, white males’) was fabricated.” Briar Gray Dickerson (class of 2017), who gave the original quote, confirmed with us that “rich, white males” was not fabricated.
For some time—before concerns with the Hunsaker article arose—the advisory board had been requesting a routine meeting with members of ASUR, which Gottlieb had evaded. Once a meeting was agreed upon, members of the advisory board noticed that ASUR had excluded Kaplan from the email thread. Gottlieb replied to their concerns by saying, “The external advisor [Kaplan] was not invited because one topic on the agenda will be a new advising system that we will look to implement.” After setting the time for a Bulldog Weekly advisory meeting, Gottlieb convened the ASUR Cabinet for an emergency meeting on the night of December 10th. The cabinet, led by Gottlieb, voted to place the Bulldog Weekly on a temporary hiatus. On December 11th, Gottlieb opened the Bulldog advisory committee meeting by informing the paper’s advisory board of ASUR’s decision to place the paper on hiatus. The editors and advisory board were surprised that such a critical decision had been made without their notice or consent, and before any discussion on the topic. ASUR cited low readership and misprinted sports scores as reasons for their decision. The advisory board and editors questioned why easily resolved problems were met with the harsh punishment of closing the student newspaper, even temporarily.
That meeting on December 11th, between ASUR and the Bulldog Weekly’s advisory board, was the last before the dissolution of the print publication. Two years later, after investigating the hiatus and interviewing many of those who were involved, we came to the realization that the situation was much more complex than it appeared to us in 2014. Now, as upperclassmen, we note that on college campuses across the U.S. suppression of the student press has become increasingly common, and feel the time is right to share our own story.
This article was originally published in the University of Redlands' literary magazine, the Redlands Review, and is the first in a series.