A campus press dispute at California State University, Dominguez Hills, appeared headed for court after student government leaders, bent on "improving" the school's newspaper, succeeded in wresting control of the publication from faculty advisers and student editors.
Nancy Harby, editor in chief of the embattled Bull's Eye, denounced the takeover as an infringement on the weekly paper's First Amendment rights and vowed to fight back through the legal system.
She said new regulations adopted Friday by the student Senate stripped the newspaper of its independence and "created a dangerous mechanism for government control of the press."
Under the revised rules governing the Bull's Eye, Harby said, she and several faculty representatives will be ousted from the Publications Commission, the governing body for the paper, leaving a student-dominated group with powers to hire and fire editors and business managers.
The commission, an arm of Associated Students, supervises the paper's operations but does not control editorial policies. The commission members are four students, the editor in chief, the paper's adviser and representatives of various departments.
Student Leader Led Coup
Louis Armmand, the 41-year-old student body president and law school graduate who led the move against the editors, said students are entitled to oversee the newspaper because they contribute about half of its budget through fee assessments.
Armmand, a frequent target of critical articles and cartoons in the Bull's Eye, agreed with Harby that the revised regulations "clearly establish Associated Students (the student government) as the newspaper's publisher. We gave them (the student editors) enough rope and they hung themselves."
However, he said, the student government does not intend to dictate editorial policy at the paper. He said the group's purpose is to "more closely scrutinize" operations at the Bull's Eye and "make sure the paper is doing a good job for the students it is supposed to be serving."
Armmand, who is studying computer sciences and foreign languages to prepare for a career in international communications, said he would not mind if the Bull's Eye's "juvenile editors" published "nasty editorials" occasionally--if only they would get out and cover "the issues of vital concern to students."
Poor coverage of campus events, "incompetent" business management and a tendency to feature "one-sided, bellicose" attacks on student officers, Armmand claimed, had given the Bull's Eye a reputation as the worst newspaper in the 19-campus California State University system.
Armmand also blasted Candy Nall, the paper's faculty adviser, as "too involved in student politics--I hope we can get someone with a fresh, nonpartisan perspective."
Nall said that as a faculty member she avoids involvement in student politics "except where the Bull's Eye is concerned. I teach journalism and the ethics of the profession to the newspaper staff, and certainly I get very partisan when it comes upholding those principles."
Nall pointed out that she is hired by the communications department to act as the Bull's Eye's advisor, but said she has received a lot of "advice" from student officers on how she should do her job.
Armmand turned another broadside against David Safer, chairman of the communications department, whom he termed "the primary culprit in this little drama."
He accused Safer of frustrating past efforts to improve the newspaper's operations and said a major benefit of the new regulations will be to remove the Bull's Eye from any control by the communications department.
"I don't understand why he's pointing a finger at me," Safer responded. He said his department "does not control the newspaper in any way. We can only make suggestions and the editors are free to accept or reject them."
'Clearly, Blatantly Illegal'
Campus publications, Safer said, "have the same rights as the daily press--and some people don't seem to understand that."
Marc Abrams, a legal advocate for campus publications who made a futile effort to mediate the Dominguez Hills controversy last week, said he has promised to help Bull's Eye editor Harby fend off "clearly and blatantly illegal" controls on the newspaper.
"I am distressed that Mr. Armmand has continued to push his mistaken views on constitutional law," Abrams said in a telephone interview from Washington, D. C., where he heads the Student Press Law Center.
Harby said she welcomed Abrams' guidance but would await the recommendations of a panel of professional journalists before deciding on any legal actions. The three-member panel convened by university President Richard Butwell is scheduled to meet Friday to review the newspaper's performance.