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posted: 2/11/2012 6:08 AM

At Stevenson, image over enlightenment

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NBC News reported student cellphones were confiscated at Adlai E. Stevenson High School so school officials could check text messages to assist in their investigation into drug sales on campus. The final quote in the report caused me to look down and shake my head.

Not long ago, Stevenson administrators disempowered student journalists, and in a two-year span, the program lost three advisers of the nationally acclaimed Statesman newspaper. Administrators were more interested in contriving PR image than in nurturing authentic journalism. When the paper covered controversies contrary to the administrators' agenda, the faculty advisers were reassigned.

In January 2010, all but four of the student staff of the Statesman resigned to protest the authoritarian attitude of administrators.

School officials took away the "designated forum" status of the student newspaper, instituted a policy of prior review, publicly accused the students of practicing "shoddy journalism," publicly questioned the competency of their nationally honored journalism teacher, forced students to publish an administratively revised newspaper against their will and forced students, under threat of low grades, to print their bylines on stories they disowned.

At the end of NBC's "drug bust" newscast, I witnessed the effect of authoritarian administrators who want to control rather than cultivate the student press. Administrators who want to exercise clout rather than engage in collaboration.

As the television camera focused on a lone high school boy with the facade of Adlai E. Stevenson High School sunlit in the background, this is what the student said: "They made a mistake in making it public. They'll ruin the reputation it took a long time to build."

Forsake enlightenment for a brighter image. Adlai E. Stevenson is rolling in his grave.

Randy Swikle

Past Director

Illinois Journalism Education Association