The Mirror has always striven to provide balanced, impartial coverage as the independent student newspaper of Fairfield. Now, after four students filed harassment complaints, the entire notion of The Mirror as an independent organization is in jeopardy.
We have always thought of ourselves as an outside organization contracted by the University. We are registered with the Connecticut Secretary of State and file taxes. We take no money from student fees, unlike other student organizations. The University provides us with an office and funds in exchange for 3,000 issues a week.
If we are truly independent, as the school lists us in its handbook, we should not be held to the school’s policies. Under our funding agreement with the University, we must abide by our own Code of Ethics and Code of Procedure. There is no reason to contractually obligate us to follow our own guidelines, then try to punish us with the University’s policy.
It is not that we want to be free to do whatever we want, but instead want to use our own rules to determine what is run in the paper. Our agreement also states that the University cannot be held liable for anything The Mirror prints. If the University then holds The Mirror responsible for adhering to its policies, the University is implicitly responsible for anything The Mirror prints.
In addition, the student handbook policies only apply to internal persons. The Mirror, if independent, is an external organization and should not be bound by the harassment policy in the handbook.
If The Mirror is an internal organization bound by the policies of the handbook, it is not independent and the University should just call us Campus Currents.
The student code specifically states that harassment by students, faculty, staff or visitors will not be tolerated. But The Mirror is none of these. It is an external organization contracted by the University to provide a service.
The next time a writer tackles a controversial topic, such as abortion or same-sex marriage, someone could file a complaint and hold The Mirror responsible. We cannot be objective if we have to worry about punishment for anything we print.
The Mirror has taken unprecedented steps in order to learn and grow from this experience. We apologized. The editorial board met with the protesters to foster discussion on the topic.
We published an anonymous letter against our own policy in order to give the protesters more of a voice. We have added a supplement to our Code of Procedure to address columns such as “He Said/She Said” in addition to our willingness to add an advisory board to handle any future complaints.
The Mirror is an external organization run by students; we work hard at producing a product beneficial to the student body. But at the same time, we are here to learn as well. We have learned from this experience and will continue to learn and grow as an organization.
After the harassment complaints were filed, Dean of Students Tom Pellegrino suggested mediation to resolve the dispute. But the students refused.
Any sanctions against The Mirror as an organization, or its writers, is tantamount to censorship and inhibits our status as an independent paper.
The school can’t have it both ways. We’re either independent, or just an extension of the University with the administration controlling the news coming from The Mirror.