Panel to investigate protest in private

By Brian Slupski

A university panel met in secrecy Friday to look into an incident in which 200 protesters occupied The Northern Star April 26.

University Legal Counsel George Shur said the panel was an advisory body and therefore, not covered by the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Shur said the Star “had no legal right” to attend and report on the panel’s meeting. Shur, however, did not want to act in a “dictatorial manner” and said the panel would have to discuss and vote on whether the meeting should be opened or closed.

Shur did say the initial information gathered by the panel might not have any bearing on future decisions as to what is important. “We may not even yet have hit upon the key issues that we’re going to end up making recommendations on,” he said. “Knowing that, if you leave something up like that open to public knowledge, the people tend to get the wrong idea of what you’re doing.”

After about a 40-minute debate, the majority of the panel voted to close the meetings. The vote was not unanimous, but no other specific information concerning the vote was released.

After the meeting, Journalism Department Chair Daniel Riffe said he believed the meetings should be open.

“The only reason I would go along with the meetings being closed is that there are personnel matters being discussed.

“Although I object to the meetings being closed, I am reluctant to give up my place on the committee because I am very interested in this process,” Riffe said.

One member of the panel, Student Association Vice President David Gonzalez, participated in the April 26 protest of the Star and several coalition members said he was a member of the coalition at the time of the protest.

The Star’s Editor in Chief Sabryna Cornish said she witnessed Gonzalez among the coalition of protesters in the Star on April 26 and the Star has pictures of Gonzalez participating in the protest.

Shur said he raised the bias issue with the panel. “There was full agreement that if any of us felt that we were unable to conduct this inquiry without prejudging (the Star) and without bias that we should leave.

“One by one we went around the table and took that solemn oath one to the other, and I have to take a person at his word,” Shur said.

He said a second student representative might be added to the panel.

The panel met with members of the African-American Latino/Latina (AALL) Caucas, whose membership is limited to Student Association senators, and also with members of the AALL Coalition. The two newly-formed organizations have for the past week led protests against what they consider to be The Northern Star’s racist journalistic practices.

SA Speaker Nelson Perez, a member of the caucus, said he would not comment on the meeting until all caucus members had been debriefed. He said the Star would receive a press release on the meeting, however, no press release has been received.

No other caucus members would comment on the meeting. Coalition members also refused to comment after being advised not to by Perez.