College Media Association condemns administration of its actions

The College Media Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to censure the university for its actions involving The Flor-Ala and its Student Media Adviser Scott Morris. CMA sent a letter of notice to university administration Nov. 26 that details their final report.

The censure makes UNA just the eleventh school since 1998 that the CMA Board of Directors has censured. Six of the censures are still in effect.

Chris Evans, president of the college media association, said student media should always be free of administrative oversight, but the removal of Morris demonstrated the university’s attempt to limit the protection of students’ First Amendment rights.

“We do not take this action lightly,” Evans said. “A censure represents our organization’s strongest possible condemnation of an institution as being hostile to the spirit of the First Amendment.”

The First Amendment Advocacy Committee investigator John Harvey started the investigation Oct. 2, which is the same day Morris requested for it after the university told him they were consolidating the student media adviser with a new faculty tenure-track position Sept. 26.

Morris believed the university’s actions were a form of retaliation after The Flor-Ala published an article Sept. 6 outlining the administration’s denial of public records requests for a professor on trespass notice and former Vice President of Student Affairs David Shields’ personnel files.

“Alexander and other administrators at UNA are obsessed with controlling any news that is reported about the university,” Morris said.

University administration denied Morris’ claims and said an on-going discussion to improve the student media adviser position started in the latter part of 2014.

Morris said the university never included him in the discussion when they hired him in September 2014.

One of the reasons the university gave for the upgrade was to make sure the communication department was up to par for accreditation standards.

However, the CMA’s report said the department’s 2014-2015 accreditation report had no indication it needed to increase its Ph.D. numbers.

Bryan Rachal, director of communications and marketing, said the details of those conversations included moving the reporting for the position to the communications department from the office of Student Engagement and upgrading the position to a tenure-track Ph.D. level position.

“The university believes that the recent action by the College Media Association is unwarranted, outside the scope of its authority, and inconsistent with its own investigation,” Rachal said. “UNA provided significant and substantial documentation that supports the timeline of decision-making.”

He said the timeline started March 9, 2015 when the university approved to move student media to the communications department.

The FAAC and The Flor-Ala asked for documentation proving the university was taking steps to improve the student media adviser position, but the university did not provide any.

“No documentation is required when the change to a new faculty position that includes the duties of Student Media Adviser is simply an upgrade from the current staff position,” Rachal said.

Another red flag the FAAC identified was the 2019 operating budget, which runs from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019, did not change or reflect an upgrade within the department.

During the investigation process, Harvey made several attempts to have a conversation with university administration to come to a mutually beneficial solution and recommended UNA immediately stop the search for a new student media adviser.

The FAAC’s other recommendations included student media’s needs, the revision of student media’s charter, ways to integrate vocational training with standard communications courses and find the best interests of UNA’s student journalists.

After the university received the recommendations, it continued to leave the application open on its website and post the position on several social media platforms.

“When these stakeholders can confidently report that they believe that UNA administrators are not hostile to the spirit of a free student press and are not guilty of carrying out retaliatory measures against the student media adviser for reason of student originated content, this censure could be removed,” Evans said.

After CMA issued the censure, Vice President of Student Affairs and Provost Ross Alexander sent an email to students concerning the topic.

He said CMA’s own investigation surrounding Morris acknowledged there is no evidence supporting claims of administrative retaliation.