Duluth may shorten reins on school paper

by Andrew Tellijohn

Controversy can cast a long shadow — a lesson that Ron Hustvedt, editor of the Duluth campus newspaper, is learning the hard way.
Nine months ago, the UMD Statesman published a satirical April Fool’s Day issue. The masthead of the issue said its goal was to see how far the First Amendment could be stretched. But the homophobic and racist undertones of the articles were more effective at raising the ire of students and administrators across campus.
Hustvedt thinks the controversial issue may have led Duluth’s chancellor, Kathryn Martin, to propose changes to the paper’s policies. Hustvedt isn’t comfortable with these proposals.
“In talking to her, there were some things that were issues of concern that I had,” Hustvedt said.
As chancellor, Martin can recommend adjustments to the newspaper’s bylaws. She has proposed several such changes, including adding an editorial board to the publications board that already oversees the newspaper. The editorial board would meet with Statesman staff members to discuss potential stories. Martin also suggested the paper should require its staff to meet a minimum grade-point average and attend certain courses. These steps could bar many students from working at the Statesman.
Hustvedt said that he didn’t think Martin was forcing the paper to make the changes, but said he felt that as chancellor, she has a lot of leverage. Hustvedt said he thinks Martin will be able to find a way to make whatever changes she wants.
“I don’t think she’s out to get us,” he said. “I definitely think it’s something we should keep an eye on.”
Hustvedt said he’s also concerned that Martin wants to make coverage of controversial issues less common.
“What it narrows down to is she’d also like to see the student newspaper become more of a (public relations) tool (for the school),” Hustvedt said.
Hanna Erpestad, the chairwoman of the Duluth campus Board of Publications, said Martin wasn’t trying to infringe on the Statesman’s editorial autonomy.
According to the Statesman’s bylaws, the editor in chief reports to a publications board, which in turn reports to the chancellor. A letter from Martin to Hustvedt said that hierarchy makes her de facto publisher of the newspaper.
Erpestad said she thought Martin was expressing discomfort with the role her position as de facto publisher was given in the bylaws and asked that it be reworded.
“I believe she made it clear that she was just expressing her views,” Erpestad said. “I didn’t feel like anyone was telling me what to do.”
Erpestad, who has been on the publications board for three years and chaired it for two, said Martin felt that serving as de facto publisher was a role no chancellor has had at any school she’s worked at before.
The school is eliminating its mass communications program and in two years, when the newspaper’s adviser retires, his position will be cut, Hustvedt said. But he added that the April Fool’s Day incident may have influenced Martin’s decision to vocalize her concerns.
“I think that set the wheels in motion,” Hustvedt said.
In a letter to the members of the publications board, Martin cited the lack of a journalism department as a reason for these developments. “Again, I would reiterate the purpose of these recommendations is to constitute a stronger element of the educational experience within the context of the publication of the student newspaper,” she wrote.
Hustvedt has struggled to set up a meeting with Martin for several months. He said that several times in Martin’s two-year term as chancellor, he’s had phone calls go unreturned and meetings cancelled at the last minute.
“It’s not very good leadership to be gone all the time,” he said. “She’s sort of shortened the honeymoon herself.”
Martin did not return phone calls.