Editorial: Concern Regarding Impeding Our Newspaper Circulation

At The Minaret, we would like to dedicate our staff editorial this week to address a serious concern about the circulation of our newspapers. During the week of freshman orientation, chemistry professor Dr. David Ford took it upon himself to dispose of all of our newspapers from our rack by Plant Hall’s post office, in addition to a stack of newspapers on our rack in the Vaughn Center.

Dr. Ford has admitted these actions to The Minaret, and estimates the total number of papers he threw out at approximately 50, though The Minaret would give an estimate that is at least three times that number.

In addition to two other boxes of newspapers that went missing in the Vaughn Center, we would approximate the number of missing newspapers at around 300-500. We are unaware of the location of these two boxes and are not implying that Ford had anything to do with them. Ford has been quite candid and, we believe, honest in his explanation of his actions.

According to Ford, he picked up a copy of The Minaret of his own accord, and quickly noticed that the date was several months old. The Minaret had decided to display our surplus issues from April 27, 2007, because our first issue of the year would not be available until Friday of orientation week, and we wanted to give new parents and students an idea of what it is that we do on campus.

Because Ford saw that the paper was out of date, he moved to put it back on the rack, at which point he noticed a story that troubled him on the front page: “Non-student Threatens to Kill Austin Hall Residents.” On April 19 of last year, a man was arrested after making public threats on campus, and Ford felt it presented parents with a skewed perception of the security problem on campus and thus decided unilaterally to dispose of all of the newspapers on that post office rack and then another stack in the Vaughn Center.

Ford says that he initially thought that our April 27 issue being on display was a mistake, but nonetheless he freely admits that he wouldn’t have thrown the papers away were it not for the issue he took with that front page article.

“My actions were a little precipitous. I probably should’ve checked around to see what was going on,” he admitted. He also says that he acted “only on my own personal motivation. It was not suggested to me by anyone to do this.”

We have no reason to disbelieve any of Ford’s assertions, and are grateful for his straightforwardness. Yet we must insist that although we hope that this issue was anomalous, it should be absolutely clear that no faculty member or student has any right whatsoever to act in such a manner as Ford did, interfering with the distribution of The Minaret in any manner. Any issues that faculty or students have with our newspapers being out should be directed to us. Steve Knauss, Editor-in-Chief, can be reached at sknauss@ut.edu.

The University provost, Janet McNew, agrees with us.

“The bottom line is the faculty and the administration really need to have a hands-off relationship to the student press,” she said. “No faculty member should take it upon themselves to operate that way in terms of The Minaret.”

Since we hope we are right in viewing this incident as an anomaly, we are not choosing to pursue further action against Ford.

In the future, however, it should be noted that we can and will pursue action against those who steal our newspapers, regardless of intent or confusion, by means including but not limited to: notifying local media and media watchdog groups, pressing charges through the university conduct process, contacting security to press charges of theft, and the billing of individuals responsible (we charge $1 per issue beyond anyone’s first two issues, which are free).

It must be made known that theft of our newspapers, whatever the intent, is completely unacceptable. It not only undermines our production on campus, but has wider ramifications in terms of the level of discourse in the community at large. Ignorance or confusion will not be accepted as an excuse in the future. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said, “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.”

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