Cathy Stablein has been the faculty adviser for the College of DuPage student newspaper, the Courier, since 1987.
But college administrators stripped that title from her duties as a journalism faculty member effective Wednesday at the community college in Glen Ellyn. They say Stablein needs more time to work on restructuring the school's journalism program.
Newspaper staffers, though, argue her removal smacks of punishment for the publication's sometimes critical coverage of the administration.
In a meeting May 26, Stablein says she was told by Liberal Arts Dean Daniel Lloyd and Dean of Student Affairs Sue Martin that she was being administratively removed as the paper's adviser.
Stablein said she and Sandy Fries, the only other journalism professor at COD, were directed to retool the journalism program, which officials have given "Critical Program Review" status due to declining enrollment.
Stablein said neither Lloyd nor Martin gave any indication her work on restructuring would be a temporary reassignment.
Vikaas Shanker, who was the paper's editor-in-chief this year, said he thinks the move is in response to stories that were critical of school officials. That includes editorials that questioned cuts to the college's athletic programs and an endorsement of two candidates for the board of trustees who were favored by faculty.
"We feel this is kind of one of many things they (administrators) do that shows that student input and involvement aren't very high on their list of priorities," Shanker said.
College spokesman Joe Moore said there's no connection between the content of the paper's stories and the decision to change advisers.
He said some journalism courses have only had six or seven students enrolled, while ideal enrollment is at least 20.
"We absolutely owe it to taxpayers to periodically look at programs and see if they're still needed and if they're viable," Moore said. "We're going to do everything over the next year to assess the (journalism) program and make it viable."
Stablein said enrollment in any discipline has its ups and downs, but numbers have increased for summer courses she is teaching.
She said she believes she has gotten along with college officials, but there have been instances during her tenure as newspaper adviser where they might not have been happy with the paper's coverage.
Though she was adviser, students made the ultimate decisions on the paper's content, she said.
A temporary adviser will be appointed this summer and a screening committee of faculty and staff will find a replacement for the fall. That could include hiring someone part-time who currently works in the journalism field, Moore said.
The episode isn't the first time College of DuPage President Robert Breuder has been at the helm when issues arose involving the student press.
In 2006, when Breuder was president of Harper College in Palatine, Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire's contract as faculty adviser to the student newspaper was not renewed. At the time, Gire said college administrators wanted to impose new guidelines on the paper that would have restricted what was published, and he refused to sign off on those rules.