OUR SAY: 1st Amendment locked out of Winthrop

Whispered rumors of lawsuits.  Phone calls from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  Articles published by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).  Threats from Board of Trustee members.  Cancelled interviews and unreturned phone calls from administrators. Accusations of factual inaccuracies.

These sorts of escapades are not uncommon among newsrooms.  The existence of FIRE and SPLC proves that in and of itself.

But as a small weekly paper, it seems that as we look back on this past semester we have been greedy. We have racked up on these formidable events and more in just one lone semester.

The official motto of Winthrop is “Live, Learn, Lead.” If we pay attention enough on campus and in our classes we can hear that motto reiterated so many times until it becomes practically redundant.

However, there is another less official theme that tends to resonate around Winthrop’s campus. This whispered motif seems to flit around the campus green, curl around the halls of the arts and sciences department and sing along with the notes in the music conservatory.

It is the almost tangible annihilation of transparency and the First Amendment.

I guess we shouldn’t be too mad that our university president refused to sit down with one of our editors due to “time constraints.” After all, President DiGiorgio was vitally needed in Atlanta for the NCAA tournament as Winthrop’s support for the former men’s head basketball coach who recently compared his time at Winthrop to “indentured servitude” was clearly detrimental.

Oh. Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State Shockers lost that night?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Winthrop administration was thoughtful enough to forgo resurrecting yet another ambiguous metal sculpture and instead plant a tree not too many years ago to honor that First Amendment which, if we recall correctly, protects and celebrates the freedom of speech and the press among other probably unimportant rights.

The tree, albeit its dead appearance, crouches in a forgotten corner of Winthrop’s campus hidden between two voluptuous magnolias and Oakland Ave.

Despite the (hopefully) living testament to all that which is sacred (writing), this semester has proven time and time again that not everyone appreciates student press.

Is it too much to ask that the administration’s respect for the First Amendment and the freedom of the press be as easy to find around this praised campus as that scrawny tree?

At Winthrop we might as well change from the student press to the student oppressed.

At this point it shouldn’t be a surprise to the student body that a new president has been elected unanimously by the Board of Trustees to replace retiring president DiGiorgio in the fall (thanks to our student newspaper). It also shouldn’t be a surprise that President-elect Jayne Comstock brought with her overwhelming fanfare for all things garnet and gold a cloud of carefully placed words, convenient misconceptions and fabricated details surrounding a Butler University lawsuit against a student disguised as an anonymous blogger (again thanks to our student newspaper).

The future administration brought up an intriguing question to The Johnsonian. They asked if a person who hides behind anonymity still deserves protection under the First Amendment.

Despite the near impossibility of overlooking that clear lack of knowledge of how the Internet operates with a substantial dash of simply pure ignorance, The Johnsonian critically thought that question out even further.

Why take up protection with mere constitutional rights when we can follow in the administration’s omnipresent shadow and hide behind fabricated and thinly veiled perceptions.

As one of the longest and most trying semesters in the history of The Johnsonian comes to a close, we want to say that while we are battered and at times afraid, we are still here. Our passion, although dampened and suppressed, is still flourishing (better than the First Amendment tree) and overflowing with questions to ask.

Winthrop may keep the First Amendment locked outside of its 29733 area code but The Johnsonian is ready and able to fight to break down those walls and allow for transparency to be as infinite as the supply of new mulch.



One Response

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  1. Melissa Kerney Umbarger
    Apr 13, 2013 - 03:41 AM

    “The future administration brought up an intriguing question to The Johnsonian. They asked if a person who hides behind anonymity still deserves protection under the First Amendment.”

    Our country has a long history of guaranteeing the First Amendment to the anonymous; perhaps a history lesson would remind the administration of the Federalist Papers, which promoted the ratification of the Constitution. It was a longtime secret that the pen name “Publius” was in fact Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

    This is but one example. The fact that the anonymous now use the Internet instead of quill and paper changes little. Every citizen deserves protection under the First Amendment, whether they sign their name or not.

    Furthermore, newspapers such as The Johnsonian have been granted even broader rights under the First Amendment because our Founders, and later on the Supreme Court, recognized the importance of a free press in a democracy. It is a journalist’s duty to call out abuses of power, to afflict the comfortable. From what I have read from afar recently, The Johnsonian has held true to this duty. Continue the good work.

    -Melissa Kerney Umbarger
    Winthrop University c/o 2001
    Former editor of The Johnsonian
    Former editor of the Roddey-McMillan Record

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