Student newspaper chafes at censorship from admins

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

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  • Santa Clara University is under fire from students and alumni after administrators pressured the student newspaper to remove a section from an article that criticized one of the school's deans.
  • A lawyer for the school sent a "request" that the article be retracted, which the editors felt compelled to comply with because the school provides the paper with $70,000 in annual funding.
  • Santa Clara University is under fire from students and alumni after administrators pressured the student newspaper to remove a section from an article that criticized one of the school's deans.

    The Santa Clara first published the article in question, which looked into a recent $100 million donation to the school for a STEM facility, on February 2, and included a quote from John Sobrato, one of the private donors, that called for the replacing the current engineering dean, Godfrey Mungal, reports SFGate.

    “Administrators...prioritized their own interests at the expense of...free speech and journalistic principles.”   

    [RELATED: Brown student paper given ultimatum after publishing ‘racist’ op-eds]

    “Frankly, we have to have a new dean that’s more connected in the high-tech community,” Sobrato stated in the original article. “And I don’t want to throw stones at Godfrey, but...we need somebody that’s a modern, high-tech entrepreneur. I’d love to see some retired executive who would like to run a school. That’s what we need to find to make this project really sing.”

    Mungal apparently didn’t take kindly to being knocked by a wealthy donor in the paper, and Santa Clara faculty reportedly told student journalists that they had no choice but to comply with a “request” from a school lawyer to remove four paragraphs from the story.

    [RELATED: Student paper self-censors articles with ‘content warnings’]

    Sophie Mattson, the editor in chief of the paper, said administrators initially wanted her to remove the article entirely, but ultimately agreed to her counter-proposal of only removing the objectionable paragraphs.

    “If the university gave us reason to believe the article was factually incorrect or misquoted, I would feel the university would have more of a right to step in,” said Mattson. “That is not the case.”

    Mattson also explained that she felt obligated to edit the story because Santa Clara is the paper’s publisher and provides $70,000 in annual funding, remarking that “a publisher does have the right to move content, but publishers don’t usually interfere.”

    [RELATED: UMD student paper bows to outrage over op-ed criticizing BLM]

    While The Santa Clara complied with the order to edit the article, the paper included an editor’s note to make clear that the staff was “strongly, vehemently opposed to removing sections of the original article,” and consider the request “to be in violation of our commitment to journalistic ethics.”

    The paper followed up with an editorial titled Censored But Not Silenced on February 16 further decrying the university’s censorship.

    “Upper level administrators and university counsel prioritized their own interests at the expense of honoring the values of free speech and journalistic principles,” the editorial declares indignantly. “In a situation with competing interests, The Santa Clara’s autonomy was compromised in order to appease the administration.”

    John Ottoboni, the lawyer who made the decision to remove parts of the story, told SFGate that he requested the retraction because he felt that “the potential for harm [from the story] outweighed the benefit,” adding that the students “have to realize that compassion goes with this.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey



    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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