Panel concludes protesters within rights

By Brian Slupski

An investigation into the April 26 protest of The Northern Star which saw about 150 protesters enter the Star and demonstrate concluded that the protesters were within their rights.

The demonstration came after the Star ran two columns which offended some African-American and Latino students. The report states, “The demonstration was peaceful and began at the MLK Mall … from the mall, the student groups decided to visit the Star offices in Altgeld Hall to voice grievances and concerns over recent Star articles.”

Whether the demonstration was legal or illegal depends on whether it disrupted the Star and prevented a normal work day.

University Legal Counsel and panel chair George Shur said having 100 people come into a place of business would be somewhat disruptive.

“I’m not naive, obviously there was some disruption. But we felt there was relatively little disruption caused, and that the people’s right to be heard outweighed the disruption that was caused,” Shur said.

According to state law, it is illegal to interfere with a public institution of higher education. As defined by Illinois statue article 21.2 of chapter five, interference “willfully impedes, obstructs, interferes with or disrupts the performance of institutional duties by a trustee or employee of the institution.”

Star editor in chief Sabryna Cornish said the report had valid points, but some of it was one-sided.

“Some of the things the report suggested we already are doing,” she said. “We need to improve minority relations and we realize that.”

Cornish said she does not want the report to dictate any of the editorial content of the paper. “I don’t want anyone to think they can control the editorial content of the paper. It’s a matter of free speech and the First Amendment.”

Star incoming-editor in chief Jami Peterson said she felt the report mis-characterized the incident in its portrayal.

She described the protest as “out of control. No one could work, people were chanting.

“They knew we were willing to sit down and talk, but they just wanted to get more attention.”

Peterson said the university could have handled the situation better and should make it known that if students steal newspapers or violate the law by interfering with the operations of the newspaper, they will be punished.

Star adviser Jerry Thompson said the report and Shur’s version of the demonstration is not shared by the newspaper.

“Before the demonstration, two columnists were threatened and papers were stolen. Students at the paper were physically afraid, scared that something might happen to them during the demonstration.

“Despite what anyone says, work at the Star was disrupted. My concerns, fortunately, didn’t happen. But no one could predict how it was going to turn out.”

However, the report concluded “that the fears of the Star adviser and editor were unfounded. It was the judgement of impartial senior university administrators that nothing improper was happening.”

The report goes on to state the protesters were there to have a meaningful dialogue with the Star and that Thompson’s refusal to speak to students and threats to call the police could have escalated the incident.

Peterson said the Star wanted to sit down and talk with the protesters, but the protest with about 150 people screaming and chanting was “no atmosphere for a calm discussion.”

The report also made several recommendations and observations regarding the Star. The panel found the Star had an image problem and was perceived as “hostile” by much of the minority campus community.

The panel recommended a survey be done of the campus to see how the paper is perceived by the community.

The report also recommended the Star should take advantage of the Office of Affirmative Action and make more of an effort to hire minorities. The report described the Star’s present policy as passive.

However, the report acknowledged one reason the Star has few minorities working for it is that those who do are often viewed as “sellouts.”

The panel also recommended the Star develop a “special training and orientation program for those affiliated with the paper.”

Thompson said the Star is either already doing many of the things recommended by the panel or had planned to do them.