FAMU: A lot more questions than answers

Karl Etters is out of a job. But he’s not sure why.

The editor of the student newspaper at Florida A&M University learned via email today that he’s being replaced. This is the totality of that email…

Thank you for submitting your application for the editor-in-chief of The FAMUan for the Spring 2013 semester. It was a pleasure to interview with you on Jan. 22, 2013. I regret to inform you that after careful consideration I have selected another applicant. Best wishes in your future endeavors.

It was written by Kanya Stewart, the new Famuan adviser who still hasn’t been formally announced as the replacement for the fired Andrew Skerritt.

Etters, being a quality journalist, searched out Stewart for illumination. “She explained that I was not the best fit for the job because I didn’t fit into the vision of The Famuan,” he told me. And what’s that vision?

She said my answer about holding the administration accountable and publishing “negative” stories as she called it – which I did not say in the interview – was not in the vision of the paper.

I tried to reach Stewart to see if Etters is describing her vision correctly, but she hasn’t returned calls to two separate phone numbers in her name. So I asked Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, to describe his vision of Stewart’s vision…

The very best possible way that you could characterize FAMU’s behavior, giving them the benefit of every doubt, is that they view their students with contempt. That’s the nicest possible thing you could say. People innocent of wrongdoing don’t act this way. They don’t mysteriously suspend newspapers without explanation, don’t mysteriously fire advisers and editors without explanation, and don’t conduct secretive hiring and replacement processes that are intentionally opaque to the candidates.

If you’re innocent of wrongdoing, you put the facts on the table: “This is why we’re redoing the editor selection, this is what we’re looking for in an editor, this is who your new adviser is, this is how the selection is going to work.” Everything about this process reeks of illicit motives.

There is every outward indication that FAMU is intentionally trying to kill off independent-minded journalism and that it does not care what laws it must violate to get there. A full and independent investigation is necessary to clear the air and restore the public’s confidence. Until such an investigation is completed, the properly elected student editors of the Famuan should be restored to their positions and allowed to publish free from interference.

So what happens now?

For one thing, I’m recruiting Etters to run for president of FAMU’s SPJ chapter. He’s was qualified enough to win the Famuan editorship the first time – and I, for one, like his “vision.” And this may not be the last FAMU hears from Etters, the SPLC, and SPJ. Stay tuned.

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