Bates College censors student reporters covering staff unionization

A comparison of the two articles shows that over 1000 words were added to the edited story when it was re-edited. Current and former Bates students then uploaded a Google docs highlighting the language added and removed from the original article, under pressure and direction from Pols.

“Mary works with the newspaper to get them quotes and information, as long as it doesn’t threaten college. She’s the only point of access to get quotes from college management and administration, ”Amelia Keleher, the newspaper’s former editor, told The Intercept. “I don’t believe there was another instance where she completely edited an article. This case was unique, and particularly odd, as there isn’t even an editor’s note on the article saying it was requested to be removed and republished with changes.

In a statement to The Intercept, Pols denied any claim that his editions censored student journalists or worker voices, noting that “The Bates Student is the go-to newspaper on this campus. It is made up of journalists who are also full-time students. It is never an act of censorship to demand that inaccuracies and misrepresentation be corrected and clarification provided. “

“Like responsible journalists around the world, The Bates Student editor and reporter corrected the case and published a detailed explanation of the changes,” Pols added, referring to a declaration published by Bates Student editor Jackson Elkins, which was not appended to the republished article.

The editorial independence of student newspapers often relies on the goodwill of college administrators. In most cases, their funding comes directly from administration, which means colleges can essentially shut down campus papers at any time. This power dynamic is part of the current problem with Bates.

“Bates can cut funding at any time, but the website is owned by the students and, in that sense, is independent from the college,” Keleher said. “It’s time to have a conversation about how the student newspaper works more independently. And what would it be like not to have a single point of access to administration.

The changes made to the workers’ quotes demonstrate the major changes in administration. In the original article, Jon Michael Foley, an organizing grounds and maintenance worker, described the risks of working indoors around unmasked students during the pandemic.

“It was scary. I had a pregnant wife at the time,” the original quote from Foley read. “I broke my forties to go back to work just to immediately find that second direction was looking away. , everyone on campus agreed with [the risk posed on staff members]. “

The new version, edited by Pols, removed Foley’s fear of exposing his pregnant wife to Covid-19 and softened his criticism of management. Instead, the section touted Foley’s high-risk job as his patriotic duty.

“We had two weeks at home and I was tempted to stay buttoned up, but [I] decided that my Nanas had both worked in shipyards during WWII. My version of contributing to the world would be to unload trucks for Bates College, ”said the new quote from Foley.

In a similar case, Francis Eanes, a visiting faculty member from Bates who supports the union effort, was originally cited as explaining “numerous cases of senior managers and vice-presidents” intimidating employees.

Eanes cited instances where management closely monitored staff and “sowed completely unfounded complaints about workers who might lose their benefits … if they unionize.” Under pressure from Pols, most quotes from Eanes were removed from the republished article.

“Just as they intimidate workers into exercising our right to organize, they are now violating the editorial independence of student reporters and basic principles of press freedom,” Foley said in a statement. press signed by six current and former students of Bates, including the author of the story. “They have crossed the line here, getting too carried away in the use of their power, so we must ask this institution to live up to its ideals.”

This isn’t the first time the Bates administration has come under fire for censoring student votes. Last May, pro-Palestinian chalk drawings met reaction from the administration and was investigated as an anti-Semitic hate crime by local police. Gwen Lexow, Director of Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance at Bates, sent an email to all students expressing “deep concern about the impact” of the designs on “Jewish members of our college community. “. Lexow’s email did not mention or address Palestinian or Muslim students.

“We think the administration has tried to highlight some voices and stifle others. When the president of the university, Clayton Spencer, released a statement on the pro-Palestine chalk drawings, it was expressly pro-Israel, ”Serena Sen, a junior at Bates and a member of the BESO student committee, told The Intercept. “It gave the students the impression that the administration was trying to suffocate people.”

Today, in response to recent administration actions, a group of student leaders released a petition against censorship at Bates. The petition calls on the administration to allow The Bates Student to “immediately republish the original article, commit to refrain from modifying or removing student journalism in the future, and respond publicly for its behavior.” .

“At the end of the day, we just don’t want workers’ voices suppressed. In this case, this deletion occurred through the student newspaper. Yes, for the students who made history, they were suppressed, but more importantly, it was the workers who were silenced, ”Sen said. “In other cases, it was the managers who threatened the workers. The heart of our hope is not to stifle the voices of the workers. “

Student leaders are also asking Spencer and Vice President of Finance and Administration and Treasurer Geoffrey Swift to attend a question-and-answer session on October 20 in hopes that the event will allow students, teachers, staff and members of the Bates community to hold the administration accountable in an open forum.

“When institutions like Bates are allowed to censor these organizing efforts, they become more confident that they can continue to function the same way, maintaining their power,” Keleher said. “But the more people read about organizational efforts, the more empowered they feel. We have seen this with the current effort at Bates. Students speak out, professors speak out, workers speak out and this solidarity is powerful.

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