A Position Paper
Resignation of Six Staff Members
from the Editorial Board of News and Department
of the State News
Over Differences on Editorial Policy
Various faculty members have made inquiries regarding the circumstances of the resignation of four editors from the editorial board and of two senior reporters form the reportorial staff of the State News on November 18, 1965. So that those in the academic community can be apprised of the Sequence of events and of the circumstances that influenced the resignations, this position paper has been prepared.
* * *
Paul Schiff, a graduate in the Department of Economics, applied to the University in the summer of 1965 for readmission to continue his graduate study in the Department of History. His application was accepted by the Department of History, but subsequently Schiff's admission was denied by the University administration.
The State News, which publishes twice weekly during the Summer term and every class day during Fall, Winter, and Spring terms, gave brief news coverage during the sought relief by filing charges against the University in the Federal District Court for Western Michigan at Grand Rapids, claiming the University had refused to allow him to register because of his campus political activity. The Lansing branch of the American Civil Liberties Union supported Schiff in his legal action.
The State News published brief news accounts of these events.
In October, the United States District Court at Grand Rapids remanded the case to the University, granting a 90-day period in which to resolve the controversy that had arisen from Schiff's request for readmission. Dr. John A. Fuzak, Vice President for Student Affairs, acting in accordance with the court's request, sent Paul Schiff a letter in which he specified the charges that had prompted the University to deny his readmission. The University Faculty Committee on Student Affairs, with Dr. Frederick D. Williams, associate professor of history, as chairman, was asked by the University administration to review Dr. Fuzak's letter to Schiff to determine whether the University had acted properly in denying Shciff's readmission. Shciff requested additional time to answer the charges brought by the University, and after his reply was given to the Faculty Committee on Student Affairs, closed hearings began in early November.
As the Faculty Committee met to determine whether Schiff should be readmitted to the University, speculation was widespread on campus as to what the University's specific charges against Schiff might be. Against this background the events of November sixteenth and the next eight days assume significance.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16
About 5 p.m. Paul Schiff came to the State News office and gave copies of the University's charges and his reply to the charges to Jim Sterba, the campus editor.
Sterba had asked Shciff three weeks earlier if he would give the documents to the State News. Sterba had not agreed that they should be run in total, or at all. Schiff had refused to give him the documents at the time because Sterba would not give him assurance that they would be published verbatim.
Dave Hanson, Administration reporter for the State News, had tried to obtain the documents from University officials. He had asked Dr. John A. Fuzak, Vice President for Student Affairs; James A. Denison, Assistant to the President; and Dr. Frederick D. Williams, chairman of the Faculty Committee on Student Affairs, if the documents would be available. Dr. Fuzak said the University would not provide the State News with the documents, but he said he saw nothing wrong with printing them if Schiff provided them. Dr. Williams declined comment on the case, other than stating the time and place of the Faculty Committee hearings. Mr. Denison had prepared background material for the Faculty Committee before the first hearing. Hanson asked Mr. Denison for a copy of the material and was told he first must have permission from Dr. Williams, the committee chairman, before he could be given the material. Hanson talked with Dr. Williams, who telephoned Mr. Denison that he approved the release.
No University official would comment on the Schiff case for the record. The University would provide no information to clarify its stand. Dr. Fuzak said that the University charges represented a personal letter to Shciff and the University could not release it.
The editorial board of the State News, consisting of Charles C. Wells, editor-in-chief; Richard Schwartz, managing editor; Jom Sterba, campus editor; Mrs. Linda Miller Rockey, editor of the editorial page; and Larry Mogg, sports editor, met shortly after Schiff brought the documents to the State News. Jim Spaniolo, acting as assistant to the editor of the editorial page, also attended the meeting.
After carefully considering the documents, editorial board members were of the opinion that the two documents represented new facts in the case that ought to be presented to the student body and University community as soon as possible. After considering arguments for and against publishing the material, and of publishing documents of such varying lengths--the University's charges would run about 141/2 inches in type and Schiff's reply about 90 inches--the board was unanimous in favor of running the material on the State News editorial page for Thursday, November 18.
Board members then speculated about the possible reaction of Louis Berman, fiscal adviser and general manager of the State News, toward publication of the Schiff documents. Concern was expressed about Mr. Berman's negative attitude toward any coverage given the Schiff case. It was pointed out that mark-ups of each day's paper by Mr. Berman unfailingly noted unfavorable comment next to stories about the Schiff case, regardless of how thorough or impartial the reporting had been. Substantiating their concern that Mr. Berman might actually pull the material at press, the editors believed, were two incidents, one fairly recent:
Schwartz asked if all editorial board members would stand by their decisions to publish the Schiff material whatever course of action might follow. Every manner of reaction by Mr. Berman was considered and there was a tacit decision to stand by the boards decision to publish the documents.
After the editorial board meeting, Wells talked with Schwartz, discussing the seriousness of the matter. Wells said he was willing to do whatever necessary to run the material. When Schwartz asked how Wells thought Mr. Berman would react, Wells replied that he did not know.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 17
Hanson, who had not seen the two documents, went to the State News office Wednesday morning to read them. He talked to Wells about them and Wells said copies of the documents should be typed double-spaced and in the style used for material to be published in the State News. Hanson typed the University charges and Laurel Pratt, a reporter, typed the 15-page reply from Schiff.
Wells told Hanson that he knew Mr. Berman would not like the idea of printing the documents, but that he thought they should be printed. Hanson asked Wells what he would do if Mr. Berman refused to permit publication of the documents. Wells replied that he was unsure what he would do, that he has responsibilities to consider, and that to talk to Mr. Berman before the editorial board convened later in the day to make plans for publication of the Schiff materials. Wells said he thought it would be better for all of the editors to stand united to face Mr. Berman.
A little after 10 a.m. Mr. Berman went to Well's office. The door was closed and they talked for nearly an hour. When Wells and Mr. Berman came out of the office, they both paused at Mrs. Rockey's desk. Wells told Mrs. Rockey that Mr. Berman didn't think the State News should publish the documents because publication might prejudice the case. Students might calls members of the Faculty Committee on Student Affairs and try to pressure them in Schiff's favor, Mr. Berman told Mrs. Rockey.
When the editorial board met Wednesday afternoon, Wells announced that he thought the material in the Schiff case should not be published in Thursday's paper, because pressure might be brought on the Faculty Committee and he didn't want the State News to influence his change in mind. He replied that he had "talked with Berman." There was a general discussion on how pressure could be brought to bear. Sterba suggested that a vote be taken of the faculty committee on whether to print the material and that the editorial board go along with the committee's decision. He also suggested telephoning the federal judge in Grand Rapids. Wells replied, "We'll see."
Mr. Berman entered the meeting and the general discussion continued. The length of the two documents was brought up, and it was mentioned that the University could not reply since the court now had jurisdiction. Mr. Berman said that he personally hoped "they throw the book at Schiff." Mr. Berman said, "I've only given you two flat nos before, but I'm giving you a flat no now. When it comes to the judgement of 20-year-olds and the judgement of those who have been in the business for 42 years, I'll stick with the decision of those in the business for 42 years."
During the discussion, Mr. Berman also commented: "I'm glad Chuck agrees with me because I don't want to have to tell you that you can't print this." Wells then asked Mr. Berman to leave the conference room so that he could talk with the editors. Mr. Berman left.
It again was suggested that the federal judge be called and that one of the editors should talk to members of the Faculty Committee. Wells agreed to do both while the editors assisted the staff in putting out Thursday's paper.
Another editorial page now was prepared for the Thursday issue, with some of the material previously scheduled for the Friday issue to fill the space that had been allotted to the Schiff documents. During these preparations, Wells spent about an hour and a half talking with Mr. Berman. Sterma telephoned Dr. Gordon A. Sabine, Vice President for Special Projects, to determine the legality of printing the documents. Vice President Sabine said he didn't know about the legality, but he suggested that Sterba get in touch with Dr. Fred S. Siebert, dean of college of Communication Arts and a recognized authority on law of the press. Sterba called Dr. Siebert and explained that the charges were drawn up before the Faculty Committee on Student Affairs has met in closed session. The essential charges had been made in court, Sterba said. Dr. Siebert said that since the documents were part of the public record, he believed the State News had a right to print them. He said he did not believe the newspaper had the right to print the material form the closed sessions of the Faculty Committee.
When the editorial board reconvened at 6 p.m., Wells said he had telephoned Judge Noel Fox, United States District Judge at Grand Rapids. The judge had told Wells to use his own judgment. "Are we legal?" Sterba asked. Wells replied, "We won't be held in contempt of court." Wells then reported that he had talked to Professor Williams at the door of the room where the Faculty Committee was hearing the Schiff case, and had told him what the State News was considering. Professor Williams talked to members of the committee and then told Wells to use his own judgement about publication of the documents.
(Two days later Dr. Williams told Sterba that he would not tell Wells to print the material because it might look as though the committee had influenced the publication of the documents. He told Sterba that the committee did not object to the printing of the documents and that it was "silly" to think that pressure could have been created since the committee already had the documents.)
Wells commented that even if the committee members said it would feel no pressure, he would not change his mind. He said he did not want anyone to say that the State News had influenced the case. He wanted to have the documents printed after the Faculty Committee had reached its decision.
Mr. Berman then entered the editorial board meeting with a much less aggressive attitude than he had displayed previously. He clarified the power structure of the State News. He said the Board of Trustees of the University owns the paper. He is responsible only to President John A. Hannah, and since President Hannah answered to the Board of Trustees, Mr. Berman has ultimate authority over the State News. "If Hannah tells me to go, no questions asked, I'll go," he said. "That's the way it's set up and that's the way I like it." He then went on to clarify the editor's position. The editor-in-chief is selected by the Board of Student Publications and is solely responsible to the board. The editorial board is to act only in an advisory capacity to the editor-in-chief, Mr. Berman said. The editor must have final say. "You're just advisers--but good ones," Mr. Berman told the four editors. This was the first time the four had heard of such an arrangement for the editorial board.
The editors, after listening to Mr. Berman' s explanations, said this was not how they had interpreted the functioning of the editorial board. It was pointed out that in every study concerning the State News operations the words "policy-making editorial board consisting of ..." was spelled out, with no one objecting. The editors said they thought the editor-in-chief was the unquestioned authority in all matters of editorial page content a democratic equal vote arrangement was the way the editorial board had functioned all term, with the editor-in-chief presiding. This arrangement, the four editors maintained, was behind the philosophy of unsigned editorials--insuring maximum consideration for any editorial stand by the State News. The arrangement was also a safeguard against the personal use of the editorial page by the editorial editor, who writes more than three quarters of the editorials in the State News.
Mogg asked if the "set up" Mr. Berman suggested did not amount to censorship. Mr. Berman replied that it was not a question of censorship, but rather a question of judgement. He implied that the four editors were misjudging the issue and had not considered it thoroughly.
Sterba asked if he could write a signed column explaining why the documents could not be printed. Wells said this might be a possible solution. When Sterba explained that he would say in the column that he thought the withholding of publication of the documents was wrong, Wells changed his mind and said he would not print such a column. Sterba then asked if all the editors could write signed columns. Wells replied, "No." Berman left the meeting.
The editors continued their discussion of the set up of the editorial board. Schwartz agreed that the Board of Student Publications should select the editor, but it was up to the editor himself as to how he ran the newspaper. Sterba said he had accepted his position with the understanding that the editorial board was to function democratically.
Wells replied, "No, I have the final decision," and he then asked if the editors did not want to reconsider the issue. The evidence was presented again, with further discussion on the comparative length of the documents in the Schiff case. Wells said he was staying with his decision, and whether or not to publish the material was his responsibility. Schwartz said he thought the issue should be decided then, because he could not operate under such an arrangement of the editorial board. The other three editors agreed. Wells said he would not accept any resignations that night and asked each editor "to think it over." The four agreed but asked Wells to reconsider his decision. Wells said he would be in the State News editorial office about 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Schwartz, Sterba, and Hanson met about 9:30 a.m. in the Sterba-Hanson apartment. They talked about the situation and tried to find an acceptable solution. They tried to telephone several professors in the School of Journalism and in other departments to get advice. They wanted to talk to someone whose opinion each respected. Dr. W. Cameron Meyers, associate professor of journalism, had preached responsibility of the press to them in journalism classes and, since they were now faced with a situation that seemed to them to involve responsibility, they tried to reach Meyers but were unable to do so. About 10 p.m. it was suggested that they talk to President Hannah. Hanson called the Hannah home to see if he had returned to the campus from Minneapolis. President Hannah had returned and he asked them to come over to his house. Sterba tried to reach Mrs. Rockey and Mogg but he was unsuccessful.
Schwartz, Sterba, and Hanson talked with President Hannah for about an hour and a half. They explained the situation that confronted them, and they asked his opinion and for his advice. They told Dr. Hannah principles were involved that they did not want to compromise. President Hannah told them not to comprise their principles or their ethics. He said this year's State News was the only one he has "ever read cover to cover." He had never said anything to Mr. Berman about how to run the paper so long as there were responsible editors, he said, and he had no doubt that this group was responsible. He told them not to take the easy way out and quit. He told them he had no objections to publish responsible opinion on the editorial page, but he did not like to see editorialized news stories. President Hannah said he wished the four editors would wait for the Faculty Committee's decision, but he saw no reason not to run the documents in the Schiff case now. He said he assumed the editors would be responsible for reporting the complete story. (By "compete story" President Hannah meant reporting all the facts from the closed sessions of the Faculty Committee as soon as they were available and it would be appropriate to publish them.) As Schwartz, Sterba, and Hanson were leaving, President Hannah told them he was planning on talking to Mr. Berman "in the next Few days on another matter," but that he would bring up the matter they had discussed with him. The three later reported to Mrs. Rockey and Mogg what had occurred.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Schwartz, Sterba, Mrs. Rockey, and Hanson went to Dr. Meyer's home Thursday morning to talk with him. They explained the situation and he said he supported their actions thus far. Professor Meyers suggested that they talk with Dr. Walter Adams, professor of economics and president of the University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), because the AAUP was rightly concerned with issues such as this one. They left Dr. Meyers at 11 o'clock.
At 2 p.m. the four editors went to the State News office to meet with Wells. There was a recapitulation of the editors' thinking on the Schiff case. The four editors told Wells they had talked to responsible persons to get their views and each had said he saw no reason not to print the documents. Wells asked what was the position of the four editors, and the four replied that if Wells's position remained the same, then they would have to resign. Wells then asked each editor what he thought. Each said he saw no valid reason why the Schiff material should not be printed immediately. In essence the four said they had exhausted all possibilities, that they had not acted hastily, and now it appeared there was nothing they could do but resign. Wells suggested that they first talk to Mr. Berman.
The five went to Mr. Berman's office. Mr. Berman asked what they thought the President of the University would say if the material was printed. Sterba said they already had talked with President Hannah the previous night, and then reported their conversation with the President. Mr. Berman said he did not mind their talking to a high authority.
In the discussion that followed regarding the editorial board's being overruled by Mr. Berman, that Mr. Berman was censoring editorial matter of the State News, Schwartz asked if the board did not have a right to make mistakes and learn from the mistakes. Mr. Berman said, "You don't learn from your mistakes." Mr. Berman suggested that four could bring the issue to the Board of Student Publications, but in the meantime they should not print the documents. The editors countered that by that time the Schiff issue would be settled and the problem would have lost its immediacy. After Mr. Berman talked to each of the four editors individually about his work on the paper, Mr. Berman commented: "I want you to know that no matter what you decide to do, you can still have the trip to the Rose Bowl, because of all your work on the paper." He then added, "I'm very attached to all of you and will still be glad to write letters of recommendation for you. I won't hold this against you personally."
The telephone rang and Mr. Berman answered it. He said to the calling person that he was talking with a group of "concerned people," and that he would "come over to talk" when he was through with the group. When he hung up he said President Hannah had been on the line. He said he had talked to him about the Rose Bowl trip.
(The trips which Mr. Berman referred were to be financed from the profit estimated at $6,000--of a 48-page Rose Bowl Extra of the State News, for which Mogg and Schwartz were responsible. While neither Mogg nor Schwartz had intentions of accepting the offer once they resigned, it should be noted that no mention was ever to be made again concerning the trip to Passadena, California.)
The editors suggested that Mr. Berman talk to President Hannah about the Schiff issue while they worked on Friday's paper. They would wait to decide about resigning until after hearing what President Hannah had to say to Mr. Berman.
"If Hannah says 'yes', we'll run them today," Mr. Berman said, referring to the Schiff documents. "He can take the responsibility for what happens. Hannah has all the experience in the world in running a University, but he's no newspaperman, and I'll bank my 42 years' experience that you're making a mistake.
If their decision to remain or to resign depended on the printing of the Schiff documents, Mr. Berman told the editors, they should make up their minds then and not wait until after he talked with President Hannah. Or, he said, if they wanted to wait to make a decision on publication of the documents and try to work out something later with the Board of Student Publications, then there was a paper to put to press.
"Before, not after, I get back from talking to Hannah, you must make up your minds," Mr. Berman said. He then left the President's office. Wells also walked out of Mr. Berman's office.
The four again reviewed the situation and decided their choices of action was limited. Each editor then said he had made up his mind to resign. As they were talking out of the State News office, Wells asked Schwartz if they had arrived at a decision. Schwartz replied that each editor had decided that he had no choice but to resign. He told Wells they would hand in a joint resignation Friday and that individual resignations would be left to each to handle in his own way. The four walked out of the office without talking to any staff members.
Hanson, who had been approached by Wells earlier in the afternoon to write a story and had refused, saying he was waiting for the editors to make a decision, left immediately after the editors.
Wells then called the reportorial staff together and announced that the four editorial board members had resigned, but that the action was not over a matter of censorship but rather over a question of when to run the Schiff documents. He told the reporters that he felt publication of the documents would put pressure on the Faculty Committee before a decision was reached. Wells then commented that because most reporters were present he assumed they were loyal. In response to a staff member's question, Wells said he had appointed Kyle Kerbawy as "acting managing editor," Jo Bumbarger as campus editor, Jim Spaniolo as editorial page editor, and Rick Pianin as sports editor. Wells then asked the staff to go to work to put out Friday's paper.
The four editors who resigned went to the Journalism Building after they left the State News office and told two journalism faculty members, Dr. George A. Hough, III, and Professor Stanley Smith, what they had done. Dr. Houg and Professor Smith said they supported their action.
Two reporters, Mary Ullrich and Margie Marsh, searched out the former editorial board members, who had been joined by Dave Hanson, and asked for an explanation of their action. The editors answered the reporters' questions but they did not try to encourage them to resign. Sterba told them essentially what he had told other reporters Thursday afternoon who had asked the editors if they wanted the staff to resign. "Don't quit because of us," Sterba said, "because you don't understand the issue. Don't jump on the bandwagon."
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19
Reporter Margie Marsh handed in her resignation Friday morning to Wells. She explained she did not wish to work for a student newspaper whose policy and methods of setting policy she did not support. Dave Hanson resigned Friday afternoon. Subsequently, Char Jolles and Bill Krasean, both reporters, also resigned. Several other staff members said they were resigning or did resign, but have since returned to work.
Wells left the State News office about 1:30 p.m. Schwartz took the joint resignation to Wells at his apartment about 5 p.m. In a talk with Wells, Schwartz presented a compromise to which he said he believed the three other former editors would agree. He suggested a democratically functioning editorial board, but with the editor-in-chief having the power to ask for a vote of confidence on matters on which his opinion differed from that of his board. If the editor-in-chief could not receive a vote of confidence, he would have the authority to remove an editor as a member of the editorial board by a vote of the board, or by an individual decision, or to remove the editor from his position.
Wells, with hesitation, said he saw the suggestion as a possible solution. He suggested a meeting of the former board members with Mr. Berman and with James A. Denison, Assistant to President Hannah. Wells telephoned Mr. Denison and arranged for a meeting that night at Mr. Denison' s home.
Schwartz and Sterba, unable to reach Mrs. Rockey and Mogg, met with Mr. Berman, Mr. Denison, and Wells. Mr. Denison acted as a mediator for the session. The question was raised as to the conditions under which the editors could return.
Schwartz and Sterba each spoke for himself, but implied that Mrs. Rockey and Mogg probably would be in agreement with their position. They said they would have to go along with the idea that Mr. Berman had final authority until such time as his role could be clarified by the Board of Student Publications or by President Hannah. They said they believed there was an inconsistency with Mr. Berman's role and the State News masthead that states "Published . . . by the students of Michigan State University," but that they were willing to return to work until there could be a clarification. They offered the suggestion that Schwartz earlier had outlined to Wells regarding the function of the editorial board. There was a general feeling of support for the suggestion. Mr. Berman said it was now a matter of what could be done about the promises Wells had made to the new editorial board. Schwartz proposed a meeting the next morning with the former and new editorial board. The new editorial board members would meet with Wells at 9 a.m. and the staff and the former editorial board members would meet at 10 a.m.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 20
Wells announced that he could not reach any of the new editors Jo Bumbarger. Eight staff members and the former editorial board members were at the State News office at 10 a.m. Wells met privately with the former editors shortly after 10 o'clock. He said that they and he would have to make compromises. Wells said he would accept Schwartz's proposed arrangement regarding editorial board members, but that the editorial board members who had resigned could not return to their former positions. He proposed that Sterba return as a reporter to cover Administration offices, Schwartz as makeup editor, Mogg as a sports writers, and Mrs. Rockey as a copyreader. "I can't break my word and I've already made promises to others," he said.
About 11 o'clock Wells left the conference to meet with the staff and Jo Bumbarger, the newly appointed campus editor. The former editors were invited to attend the meeting.
During the meeting, the issue of loyalty to the State News was raised. It was asked whether those who had "walked out" were really loyal to the newspaper. Schwartz responded, saying that he believed the long hours editorial board members had unselfishly spent working for the State News should speak for their loyalty. He said board members had wanted to resign a day earlier than they had but had remained in an effort to try to resolve the problem that had risen over publication of the Schiff documents and to publish the newspaper. Schwartz said the four editorial board members had resigned only when Mr. Berman had presented them with an ultimatum.
One reporter at the meeting noted that the editorial board members had demonstrated their loyalty to the State News by not attempting to start a mass walk out when they resigned. Several other reporters suggested that nearly the entire staff would have left the office Thursday afternoon if the four editors had given them any encouragement.
Sterba mentioned that it was important to consider how the student body would view the resignations. Many students, he said, had lost confidence in Wells and in the State News. By reinstating the former editorial board members to their former jobs, student confidence could be maintained, he said.
Mrs. Rockey said that she could had won the confidence and respect of certain prersons on campus by resigning, and that she would not want to lose the confidence and respect of these persons by returning to work under Well's restrictions.
Would Wells approve the former editors' returning to their old jobs, Schwartz asked, if a "satisfactory arrangement" could be worked out with the newly appointed editors. Wells replied: "No. I have no confidence in you." Schwartz asked Wells how he could ask the editors to have confidence in him and in his decisions.
Wells said that it was not a matter of loyalty to him but rather to the State News. The issue of where loyalty should lie was raised. Sterba said he subscribed to that line in the State News masthead that read "Published ... by the students of Michigan State University." The meeting was adjourned. Wells declined to say when he would meet again with the former editors.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 21
Sterba brought a personal letter Sunday afternoon to Wells, explaining his individual reasons for resigning. Wells and Sterba agreed that the four former editors would meet again with Wells at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 22
Wells told Schwartz he could not meet with the former editors on Tuesday. The meeting was postponed until 2 p.m. Wednesday.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24
When the four former editors met with Wells, they said they had not changed their decisions. Wells said he would try to find them jobs on the staff but not as editors. Sterba said he could not return, as did Schwartz, Mogg, and Mrs. Rockey.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
December 2, 1965
/s/ Jim Sterba
/s/ Larry Mogg
/s/ Linda Miller Rockey
/s/ David A. Hanson
/s/ Margie Marsh