WIU VP should take blame for Western Courier EIC suspension

Garry Biller, Western Illinois University’s vice president of Student Services, needs to admit he was in the wrong instead of pointing fingers for suspending the Western Courier’s editor in chief.

The Western Courier is WIU’s unofficial student-run newspaper. Nicholas Stewart, editor in chief of the Western Courier, was suspended Jan. 22 by Biller for selling footage of an on-campus riot to national news media outlets in December. Biller lifted Stewart’s suspension Monday.


Stewart was thrust into the national spotlight in January when he was suspended from the Western Courier for the freelance work he did Dec. 22. According to a letter from Biller to Stewart announcing the student’s suspension, revenue from a video depicting an on-campus riot that Stewart sold to news media outlets belonged to the newspaper or WIU. Because the footage allegedly contained the Western Courier’s watermark and because Stewart kept the money he made from selling the video, his actions “posed a threat to the normal operations of the university,” Biller said in the letter.

Biller requested that Stewart meet with the Western Courier’s publications board and internal auditor to determine if he committed a professional, ethical or legal violation, according to the letter.

No wrongdoing found

After an investigation, Biller could not find any wrongdoing, but instead of admitting he made a decision without first educating himself he shifted the blame to the newspaper in a separate letter to Stewart on lifting his suspension.

“No complete policy exists within the Western Courier to guide us in determining a finding regarding your [Stewart] association with the Western Courier and your work as a freelance journalist,” Biller said in the letter.

Although Stewart has since returned to his position and faces no further disciplinary action, Biller’s actions were as unjustifiable as his current stance.

A request for an interview with Biller was referred to Darcie Shinberger, WIU director of University Relations.

“During the review process, it was revealed that the Western Courier operations policy is vague and lacks detailed information,” Shinberger said in a statement provided to her by Biller. “As a matter of fairness to Mr. Stewart, vice president for Student Services Gary Biller determined that judicial proceedings should not continue as the current Courier operations policy is unclear, particularly in regards to freelancing by staff. As a result of the review, the operations policy will be revised by the publications board with input from the Western Courier editorial staff and the adviser to insure a comprehensive policy and procedures exists for current and future staff.”

Stewart’s return not good enough

Not admitting Biller was in the wrong places the blame on the Western Courier, which has an established policy that allows student reporters to freelance at other organizations, according to the Western Courier operations manual. Freelancing is a common practice for journalism students, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Student Press Law Center.

Most importantly, the Western Courier is an independently run — although not independently funded — student newspaper and therefore is protected from university interference, LoMonte said.

Biller’s trying to amend the situation by lifting Stewart’s suspension means little if he does not understand his actions were and will continue to be dangerous to the freedom of press.