Negotiations for the independence of The Hoya from the university were halted until the spring of 2010 as part of sanctions imposed by the Media Board in April in response to [The Hoya’s controversial April Fools’ Day joke issue](

On April 22, in response to a complaint filed by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny on behalf of several students, faculty and staff, [the Media Board issued five sanctions directing The Hoya to follow through on a number of action steps]( The fifth sanction, which delayed The Hoya’s independence bid for one year, called for a probationary period and seemed to suggest that writers for the April Fools’ issue identify themselves, was subsequently appealed by The Hoya. On June 15, an appeals board decided to uphold the Media Board’s sanctions in their entirety.

The Media Board’s first sanction obligated The Hoya to provide detailed descriptions of the positions of staff development director, a position created in 2008 that two Hoya staff members have held, and ombudsman, a reader’s representative position yet to be filled. The second required The Hoya to pay for a third-party reviewer, selected by the Media Board, to conduct an external review of The Hoya. The third required diversity training for all staff to be completed by Oct. 1. The fourth required The Hoya to submit revenue amounts from the April Fools’ issue; the revenues were to be appropriated to fund a community-building program. The sanctions also required reports to be submitted once every two months on The Hoya’s progress in implementing these steps.

ost of the sanctions – including those that related to the staff development director and ombudsman, the third-party review and the use of April Fools’ issue revenue to fund a student event or program – stemmed from a series of measures approved by The Hoya’s board of editors on April 15 and sent to the Media Board on April 17, the day of the hearing regarding The Hoya. The sanctions sought to ensure that The Hoya implemented these steps, as well as diversity training.

The Media Board is an advisory and funding board that presides over university-owned student publications. The 2008-2009 Media Board included representatives of The Fire This Time, The Georgetown Voice, The Georgetown Independent and The Blue and Gray, as well as Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Lynne Hirschfeld, Director of American Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science Diana Owen and non-voting liaison to the Media Board and Center for Student Programs Director Erika Cohen-Derr.

“The past few months, in the midst of the Media Board decision process, we’ve had an opportunity to assess where we are and move toward becoming a stronger, more community-focused newspaper than we’ve been in the past. This fall we’re looking forward to our revamped recruitment and staff development programs, and taking action on proposals for campus community building initiatives,” said Margaret McLaughlin (SFS ’10), chair of the The Hoya’s Board of Directors.

The April Fools’ issue of The Hoya was published on March 31. The issue’s content sparked outrage on campus, particularly among students, faculty and staff who identified themselves as members of minority groups. Starting at about 11:30 p.m. on April 2, dozens of students participated in a sit-in protest in The Hoya’s Leavey Center office. Representatives of The Hoya hosted a town-hall meeting in White-Gravenor Hall on April 7. The meeting was attended by over 200 people, many of whom described the April Fools’ issue as crude, offensive and hurtful.

The complaint by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action was filed on April 14; it originated in a number of complaints lodged by students via the university’s Bias Reporting System.

On April 15, The Hoya’s board of editors passed six measures designed to make The Hoya “a more connected and open community newspaper.” The measures included: the commission of a third-party review; the creation of a staff development position for recruitment and training and a parallel position for institutional diversity; the use of April Fools’ issue revenue for a community-building event; the arrangement of readership forums open to the public to be held every semester; the implementation of regular readership surveys and focus groups; and the acquisition of an ombudsman.

In the April 16 edition of The Georgetown Voice and a letter in the April 17 edition of The Hoya, then-Editor in Chief Andrew Dwulet (COL ’10) outlined the measures passed by the board of editors. The Media Board held its hearing and received written notice of The Hoya’s new policies on April 17. On April 22, Cohen-Derr sent the Media Board’s sanctions to The Hoya.

The next day, The Hoya’s board of directors submitted a document to Cohen-Derr appealing in particular the fifth sanction’s postponement of independence negotiations. “We believe that the Media Board’s fifth sanction is both arbitrary and unreasonable, since the university community will be best served if these institutional changes are undertaken by an independent student newspaper,” the directors wrote. “. The Hoya has demonstrated its commitment to follow through on the action steps we have proposed, and has already begun in recent days to take action on many of these. We hope that our efforts over the past few weeks have demonstrated a commitment to pushing forward initiatives that will improve our coverage, enhance staff diversity, and demonstrate and further a commitment to campus dialogue.”

The appeal was to be considered by an appeals board consisting of Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, Faculty Senate President Wayne Davis and Georgetown University Student Association President Calen Angert (MSB ’11). Olson, citing a potential conflict of interest because of his prior role in negotiations with The Hoya for independence, appointed Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., a theology professor, to take his place. Olson and the members of the appeals board were not available for comment.

The Appeals Board evaluated the submitted appeal and sent a memo to the Media Board on May 15. The appeals board decided that the required third-party review should be reasonably priced and asked for clarification of the fifth sanction: “… We were unable to understand clearly what change in culture was sought by the Media Board; nor could we ascertain what particular actionable steps the Media Board thought necessary for that change and why the Media Board thought a probationary period necessary for ensuring that those changes take place. We also need to understand why the Media Board thought it was appropriate to demand that individual authors of stories in the April Fool’s Day issue identify themselves.”

On June 1, Cohen-Derr sent a response on behalf of the Media Board. “. Without a formal relationship between [the Media Board and The Hoya], it is impossible to ensure that such sanctions will be fulfilled. The Media Board believes that the ability to become an independent organization that retains some of the privileges of a recognized role and relationship with the Georgetown University community should only be granted to an organization that meets the standards as stated in The Hoya’s action steps, as opposed to one that merely intends to meet those standards,” Cohen-Derr wrote. She was not available for comment for this story.

On June 15, the appeals board formally upheld the Media Board’s sanctions. The board acknowledged that it did not unanimously agree that a one-year probationary period had merit, but decided that it was not its function “to substitute our judgment for that of the Media Board.”

Financial independence from the university has been sought by The Hoya for about 20 years. A public call for independence by the organization’s leadership intensified in the spring of 2008 with the “Save The Hoya” campaign. A primary point of contention at that time was the right of the organization to use the name The Hoya, because the name is trademarked by the university. By March of 2009, a licensing agreement allowing The Hoya to retain its name and distribute newspapers on campus as an independent business had been prepared.

Dwulet, currently an at-large member of The Hoya’s Board of Directors, remains confident and committed to independence for The Hoya in the future. “Independence is something we are very much committed to, and we will continue preparations this year as we have in past years. Improving our work as journalists, including better training and reporting, is at the center of what we want for this year,” he said.

Kevin Barber (COL ’11), who was elected editor in chief of The Hoya on April 18, said that the Media Board sanctions were a major setback. “The sanctions highlighted the university’s and the community’s loss of trust in The Hoya’s ability to be fair and inclusive in the wake of the April Fools’ issue,” he said. “What I want to do now is make a sincere effort to institute effectively the changes our editors voted to make in April. That’s the best way to make sure we don’t alienate our community again and to make sure we can negotiate productively next spring.”

According to McLaughlin, Cohen-Derr will oversee The Hoya’s completion of the required sanctions because the 2008-2009 Media Board has been dissolved. The Hoya’s first progress report is due Sept. 18.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.