ASHLAND — Concerns have grown around campus when the adviser to Ashland University’s student paper no longer served in that role. 

Ted Daniels, the student newspaper’s adviser of two years, was without a job a week before classes started. His contract was not renewed by Ashland University. The Collegian, the student paper, wrote an editorial about the situation.

Faculty contacted the Student Press Freedom Initiative, an organization that works to defend student news. One filed a formal complaint, which put SPFI on campus and caused it to work with The Collegian’s staff. 

It provided them with resources to continue their work without their adviser, according to Lindsie Rank, a lawyer for SPFI.

On Sept. 18, SPFI also published a letter to AU President Carlos Campo, alongside his response. 

“Ted Daniels’ dismissal for teaching too much investigative journalism chills not only faculty academic freedom, but also The Collegian’s free press rights,” stated a letter SPFI sent to AU on Sept. 8.

Faculty questions

Greg McBrayer, the faculty senate president, said this situation has caused questions about who hires and renews adjunct faculty members’ contracts. 

An email from Aug. 21 shows Dean Katherine Brown, of AU’s College of Arts and Sciences, was the one who told Daniels his contract wouldn’t be renewed. David McCoy, the journalism and digital media department chair, said he did not make that decision.

But McCoy said he always thought those decisions were for department chairs to make. 

“My assumption always was that chairs would vet and hire and decide not to renew adjuncts,” McCoy said in a Sept. 12 interview. 

He’s been the chair of his department since 2015. Since then, McCoy said he’s always been the person to interview, hire and decide about renewing adjunct professors in the journalism department.

McBrayer, the faculty senate president, said he posed that same question to the provost, Amiel Jarstfer, at a faculty senate executive meeting. 

“It seems as though [renewing adjunct faculty members] lies with the department chair,” McBrayer said. “However, of course, the department chair’s decisions can be supervised by the dean and the provost.”

The situation didn’t come up at the faculty senate’s first meeting of the year on Sept. 8. McBrayer said that surprised him, but he chalked it up to not enough people knowing about it. 

Still, he said faculty members who were aware of the situation were concerned over allegations that Daniels’ contract wasn’t renewed thanks to the reporting efforts of The Collegian. 

Ashland Source could not determine a reason for the failure to renew Daniels’ contract. The president, provost and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences said individual personnel issues are considered private matters. 

Ashland Source also asked Provost Jarstfer for clarification on who makes decisions about adjunct faculty renewal. 

“As with any other employer, there is a chain of authority on personnel matters which extends from a direct supervisor upward in that employer’s organization,” Jarstfer stated in an email response. 

Carlos Campo, the president at AU, said adjuncts are not employees until they have a contract. As far as “who pulled the trigger” on the choice not to renew Daniels’ contract, Campo said he didn’t know. But, as far as he knows, the dean would have the authority to make that decision, he said.

What do the rules say?

AU’s Faculty Rules and Regulations document is vague regarding appointments of adjunct faculty members. 

According to a copy of this document obtained by Ashland Source, “appointments to part time teaching positions shall be made on the recommendation of the department chairperson to the dean after consultation with members of the department.” 

The rules also state the president can appoint adjunct faculty members or artists in residence. Those appointments require consultation with the provost, dean, department chair and approval of a majority of department members. 

Both these rules regarding appointments “shall not confer membership in the faculty or confer progress toward tenure,” the Faculty Rules and Regulations document states. 

The document states these appointments end according to each individual faculty member’s contract.

Censoring students?

For some, the firing of the paper’s adviser has also raised concerns of censorship on campus. Lindsie Rank, the student press counsel with the Student Press Freedom Initiative, said five years ago, there was a national trend of institutions punishing advisers for the work of student newspapers.

Firing an adviser, according to Rank, is difficult to recognize as censorship. 

“It’s concerning to me to see this happen again because it’s such a sneaky and salacious way to silence student journalism,” Rank said. 

She explained that terminating an adviser makes students feel that doing the “wrong thing” could cost them. That trend has been in decline nationally since SPFI saw the uptick about five years ago.

But, Rank said Ashland University’s private status means traditional First Amendment rights aren’t protected on campus. Still, Ashland University has made promises that it encourages freedom of expression. 

It signed onto the Chicago Statement in 2017. The statement, originally produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago in 2015, emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech on college campuses. Over 100 universities have adopted it. 

Campo, the university’s president, said that statement is still in effect at AU, and will remain there even after he departs. That’s because the university’s Board of Trustees endorsed the statement. 

“It’s something that’s ingrained in our ethos,” Campo said.

Rank said because of the Chicago Statement’s adoption, students should expect protection of their freedom of press and expression on campus. She said if the allegations about Daniels’ firing are true, AU could be in breach of its promises to students.

Campo said if there’s evidence of Daniels being silenced by the university, he’d love to see it. But, he said he’s puzzled by how a non-renewal of an adjunct faculty member’s contract constitutes censorship.

‘Be a thorn in the side of administration’

McCoy said he hopes the situation can be used for educational purposes. 

“We must be careful as a people in the actions that we create,” McCoy said. “We may get upset with what somebody says, but if we have actions about what somebody says, it has a ripple effect.”

Daniels said he thinks the students got a lesson in the state of press freedom with the failure to renew his contract. On his way out the door, he told his students to, “Be a thorn in the side of administration.”

It’s something Katelyn Meeks, the managing editor of the student paper, wrote about in her editorial in the first edition of The Collegian this fall. 

“The last words former adjunct instructor Ted Daniels left me with before departing the campus of Ashland University: ‘Be a thorn in the side of the administration,’” Meeks’ editorial stated. “That is what I will continue to do.” 

“If a student newspaper is doing its job well, there should be a natural tension between it and the administration,” Daniels said. 

Campo said from his perspective, it’s always OK to express one’s opinion. He took no issue with Meeks’ editorial, but did say he thinks of the job of a journalist as more of a “gadfly” than a “thorn.” 

“Thorns are painful, and I never thought of Katelyn (Meeks) as painful,” Campo said. 

He said he knows journalists are supposed to ask hard questions and is willing to address them.

But, he also said he views his interactions with journalists as a relationship, too.

What does the future hold for Daniels and The Collegian?

Daniels said he plans to enjoy his retirement now that he no longer acts as adviser to The Collegian. But he’ll miss his former students. 

McCoy said it’s always been his plan to hire a full-time faculty member to advise The Collegian. Daniels, he said, helped out the department in a pinch and did a great job, but he said a full-timer can advise students on classes, something the journalism department needs. 

A full-time position was approved to start in August 2024. McCoy said the department will be searching for somebody to fill that spot.

McCoy also said he hopes the loss of The Collegian’s faculty adviser doesn’t make students turn away from journalism. 

As for Meeks and her staff, they’ll still be working to put out The Collegian under a new adviser — Ashland Source’s lead reporter, Dillon Carr. 

Carr will no longer cover AU for Ashland Source to avoid a conflict of interest. 

Meeks said The Collegian acts as the voice of AU’s student body. To her, the university’s actions in Daniels’ case should not just be a Collegian issue — they’re a campus-wide one.

“Sometimes I get asked, ‘Katelyn, why do you put up with all this?’ ” Meeks said. “I just tell people, ‘I believe it’s important to tell the truth and be honest. I think the students need to be informed of what’s going on. I think it’s important to have information in front of people so they can make good decisions.’

“Another thing I sometimes like to say is be the voice of the student body. The paper can do that. I’ve seen good stories we’ve done that have had so much influence.”

To support this work, please consider becoming a member of Ashland Source by following this link.

The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...