Finger in the Pye

Can pointing a finger cost you a job?

It did for Joe Pye, a senior at Florida Atlantic University. And now he’s fightin’… amused?

Pye recently ran for editor of FAU’s student newspaper. The staff voted for him 12-0 over his opponent, and the school’s Student Media Advisory Board – consisting of professionals, professors, and students – unanimously chose him.

That was two weeks ago. But he still didn’t have the job.

FAU lets its Student Government “confirm” the editor. Yes, the same Student Government the newspaper investigates.

In the decade since FAU created this silly – and you’ll soon see, illegal – rule, no editor has ever not been confirmed. Until Pye.

What did he do to piss off SG? He “was not tact in his responses to the questions posed by the senate,” says Andrea Oliver, a Student Affairs associate vice president.

Here’s how he was not tact…

It wasn’t even a middle finger.

Tuesday evening, a student senator began the “confirmation hearing” by asking Pye about his plans as editor.

“What do I plan to do?” Pye replied, pointing at them. “Keep watch over all you guys.”

They really didn’t like that.

They also didn’t like his attitude, especially about their suggestion to add a newspaper rack on a satellite campus 25 miles away, which teaches less than 150 of FAU’s 30,000 students.

“Do you want me to put a bin there?” Pye asked. “We don’t have money for that.” He suggested they give him the money, but that went nowhere.

Student senators persisted with questions about this small campus — which one admitted to never visiting. Here’s my favorite question, lifted verbatim from a recording the student newspaper made:

How do you plan on, like, broadening … are there going to be interviews on other campuses … what do you plan on doing to create a better connection between the campuses … you guys are the press.

Joe simply replied, “We have the website. I don’t have any other bins.”

All told, his hearing took less than five minutes. Since none of the questions were about what the newspaper actually reports, Pye’s last words before the vote were, “You should read us sometime.”

He lost 5-2. Now the fun begins.

This man laughed when he heard what happened.

Frank LoMonte is a noted media attorney and executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC. He called FAU’s confirmation process “a horrible, horrible mechanism.”

Then he laughed dismissively.

“If this isn’t the only place in America that does this, I’ve never heard of it,” LoMonte says. And he’s been studying college media for nearly a decade.

LoMonte calls FAU’s rule “an invitation to break the law.” Why? Because at a public university, the newspaper can’t be punished for anything to do with its content – that’s the very definition of the First Amendment.

Yet LoMonte says, “When you interview for a job like this, there’s no way to keep content out of the interview.”

What makes LoMonte really laugh is this question: “Where does FAU think it goes from here?”

This is where FAU thinks it goes, according to associate VP Oliver…

The first step is for Joe to file a petition to the student court and request a hearing. He will then have an opportunity to discuss the senate meeting. The student court can uphold or overturn the court’s decision. If the student court upholds the senate’s decision, the student can then file an appeal with the Vice President of Student Affairs. The Vice President of Student Affairs would review the senate hearing meeting minutes, the student court meeting minutes, and the appeal submitted by the student. The Vic President for Student Affairs can uphold or overturn the decision. The decision of the Vice President is final.

…and if you read that without your corneas glazing over, you get a cookie.

Pointing back at FAU.

This afternoon, Pye will discuss his next steps with his staff. Among his amusing options…

  • Meekly go through the laborious appeals process and hope someone recognizes the law when it smacks them in the face.
  • Fiercely go through the appeals process and use every chance to decry and mock it.
  • Call himself the editor, run the paper, and force FAU to do something about it. If FAU holds up his paycheck, sue the school.

What will Pye do? He’s mulling it over. But he doesn’t seem to be leaning toward “meekly.”

“I personally find it ridiculous that Student Government needs to have a say over who is editor of the newspaper,” he says. “If my ‘conduct’ wasn’t to their liking, I hate to see how they’ll react as real politicians getting grilled by real journalists.”

Or how they’ll react to a real lawsuit in front of a real judge.

Full disclosure: I’ve advised the FAU student newspaper as a part-timer and volunteer since 1998. Over the years, this isn’t nearly the dumbest thing I’ve seen. Or the funniest. This might be. Or this.

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15 Responses to “Finger in the Pye”

  1. Maxwell William Jackson Says:

    Only at FAU

  2. Stephen Voss Says:

    He was refused because he didnt want to put newspaper racks on other campuses. SG pays the bills. One way around this would be to separate the position of editor in chief from SG Agency Director(a person who would run the business and operations side of the newspaper while not controlling the editorial content).


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