Student Media Board discusses adviser’s position

Student Media Board discusses adviser’s position

News Editor Karah Wilson

After a university decision involving Student Media Adviser Scott Morris, the Student Media Board met Oct. 15 to discuss the matter for the first time.

Dean of Arts and Sciences Dean Carmen Burkhalter informed Morris the university will be upgrading his position from a staff to faculty position. The new faculty position will require candidates to have a PhD and journalism experience. 

Morris will not return for the 2019-2020 academic year. 

“What strikes me as odd about this is that this is a decision that is being characterized as one that was made deliberately without ever having told Dr. (Butler) Cain that this was even being discussed. I found that really odd,” Student Media Board member and chair of the meeting Glenn Stephens said. “I would like, for me personally, to be convinced that it’s not some kind of retaliation to keep the adviser in line or replace Scott with an adviser who can be kept in line as part of faculty who will be un-tenured when they come in. I’d like to know a timeline of how this was discussed.”

Stephens said Cain, chair of the communications department, said this is his first time in higher education where someone above him made a decision they did not ask him about beforehand.

“We have a department chairman who is called in and told very abruptly within a few days of a very pretentious meeting where the provost was upset and says ‘we’ve decided to change the structure of the adviser role and we are going to cut Scott loose. We are going to hire a professor with a PhD who’s going to advise, teach and do research,’” Stephens said.

He said he would like to see a paper trail but thinks it is not likely to happen.

“Nothing happens in a year, much less two weeks,” Stephens said in regards to his experience at a previous university.

Student Media Board member Beth Garfrerick said it will be hard to find someone with a PhD in journalism with professional experience.

This decision was made without the input of the board. The board passed a resolution in 2017 saying it wanted to be involved in decisions, but said it did not have any real power.

Board member James Martin said he believes the university should have gone to the Student Media Board out of courtesy.

Stephens said he met with former chairman of the Board of Trustees, Marty Abroms, and said he had no knowledge of the decision.

Cain wanted the board to discuss the ethics behind a recording Morris took of a meeting regarding Morris’ position. Cain was not aware of the recording until after the meeting. In the state of Alabama, it is legal to record a conversation as long as one of the parties are aware.

Morris said he feels Cain does not want the board to address the real issue and wants to distract.

Martin said he agrees the discussion of the recording and the ethics behind it are distracting. He said Cain is trying to shuffle the attention off the real issue and that is, in his judgement, whether or not the elimination of Morris was pre-planned and already in the works or if it is out of retaliation for articles published by The Flor-Ala regarding David Shields and Gregory Gaston.

In a statement to the board, Morris said if members let this go without uttering a word of disapproval, then the board should stop talking about the First Amendment in the hallways and classrooms. He said they should stop hosting events that celebrate the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.

“These students are watching you, and they know better,” Morris said. “They know your lectures are hollow if you don’t back them up with courage and action.”

He said the board has two choices, neither of which are pretty.

Morris said the board can believe him when he says provost is retaliating against The Flor-Ala and its adviser because he is mad about a story that embarrassed him and the university.

The other option is the board can believe the provost and the dean are making impulsive decisions without input from the Student Media Board, the students, the adviser and the department chair without any regard for how they will harm the program.

Morris said he is not asking the board to show loyalty to him despite working along the board honorably.

“Your loyalty should be to your discipline, not to people,” Morris said. “If your loyalties are to anything else but your discipline, you have already compromised your integrity.”

The board did not make any official decisions and only met to discuss the position of Morris.