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Journalist Leaves Hampton University; Cites Speech Issues


Former Time columnist Jack E. White, dismayed by Hampton University’s approach to freedom of speech, says he will not return to his teaching post there.

“I like the kids in Hampton, but the atmosphere in Hampton is in contradiction to the goals of a journalism program,” White told the Newport News Daily Press.

White, a 59-year-old journalism veteran who also served as editor of Time’s “Nation” section, was hired in 2004 to teach reporting and news writing at the historically Black university’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He was an endowed chair during the 2005-2006 academic year.

University spokeswoman Yuri Rodgers Milligan says White’s job was a one-year position. White, however, says he removed his name from consideration for the upcoming school year.

Tony Brown, dean of the journalism school, says there was never any discussion about extending White’s appointment and called it “puzzling” that White would attack the program after two years.

“Why, a reasonable person would ask, did it take White, a self-described seasoned journalist, two-and-a-half years at Hampton University to suddenly become outraged at what he now describes as a conspicuous and blatant suppression of free speech?” Brown wrote in a response Friday evening.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I thought a program, especially a journalism program, was guilty of routinely violating the First Amendment, I would not be a part of it,” he added. “Neither would I work at a university that routinely suppressed freedom of speech.”

According to White, a series of events shed unfavorable light on the university and prompted his decision.

In a widely criticized act, university administrators seized copies of the student-run newspaper, the Hampton Script, in 2003. The move came after Script editors decided against publishing a letter by acting President JoAnn Haysbert on the front page, as she had desired. Instead, they ran the letter, which explained the university’s steps to correct cafeteria health-code violations, inside the paper.

And last year, seven students involved in organizing a protest criticizing the Bush administration were disciplined by the university. The students were accused of violating university rules on demonstrations and distributing fliers on campus.

White also had disputes with Brown. In one incident, he says, Brown refused to apologize after wrongly accusing faculty of leaking confidential information to an Internet columnist.

“They could have a good journalism school, if they replaced Brown with someone who knows something about journalism and believes in it,” White says.

Brown’s response: “Our school is not aspiring to be a good journalism school; it is already an excellent school.”

Associated Press

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