Illustration by Sam Papavasiliou

Humboldt State Admin attempts to discredit the Lumberjack


***A Lumberjack editorial represents both the majority opinion of the student newspaper’s editorial board, nine editors, as well as the overwhelming majority of Humboldt State University’s student body. Collectively, an editorial echos, embodies and advocates for community beliefs.***

Insensitive communications between Humboldt State University administration and student newspaper, the Lumberjack, includes inaccurate accusations and degradation comments directed at the LJ’s reputation. 

In a letter to the Lumberjack’s editor, Vice President Frank Whitlatch claims the student-paper intentionally printed false information. The letter targets four specific points within the article, “HSU Athletics Department left in dark about SJSU,” by Sports Editor Thomas Lal, published in print on Wed., Oct. 7 and online the following day.

According to Whitlatch, the four issues within Lal’s article include accuracy, context, claims of purposeful ignorance towards follow-up quotations and headline language. 

Whitlatch’s claim that Jane Teixeira’s, HSU’s athletic director, was misquoted in regards to the Athletics department’s knowledge of San Jose State University’s arrival is completely inaccurate. The second paragraph of Lal’s article clearly states HSU Athletics was notified late Tues., Sept. 29. 

“With the notice coming late on Sept. 29, the first chance that the department had to discuss matters was the following day with the Spartans roughly 24 hours away,” Lal wrote in his article.

The information reported in Lal’s article directly matches the information stated in Whitlatch’s letter to the editor. There is no inaccuracy. Lal, in fact, did not ignore the information as the letter suggests. Whitlatch attempts to use this baseless claim to delegitimize the entire article.

While the letter states HSU Athletics was not in the dark about the team arriving, our editorial staff does not believe a few hours of advanced notice would significantly impact the department’s ability to prepare for the team’s arrival. 

Whitlatch attached transcripts from Lal’s meeting with Teixeira in his letter claiming the Lumberjack ignored context surrounding Teixeira’s quote. Cris Jones Koczera, emergency management coordinator, however, further supported the information reported in Lal’s article.

“It was at the end of the day, on Tuesday [when they found out],” Koczera said in the interview with Lal. “So, by the time we really had an opportunity to get together, start talking about what that meant it was Wednesday first thing, right out the gate.”

In a Zoom meeting with the Lumberjack editorial staff on Thurs., Oct. 15, Grant Scott-Goforth, HSU’s communications specialist, echoed Koczera’s statements that SJSU’s arrival at HSU was in fact a last-minute affair.

“The Athletics Directors and our emergency operations team and myself I think found out several hours before the rest of the campus did,” Scott-Goforth said. “So, that was a scramble. I mean, that was a huge scramble.”

In addition to Scott-Goforth’s confirmation, he claimed the diction used in the Lumberjack’s editorial, “Humboldt State administration cash in at student expense,” was strong, misleading and accusatory language that promoted a Humboldt brand of xenophobic behavior towards students from big cities by stating SJSU was stealing HSU student resources. 

“I just felt that was a little bit misleading because again you know this is a decision that’s made by the President’s versus the student athletes who are coming here so they could practice but it wasn’t exactly their choice,” Scott-Goforth said. “I grew up in Humboldt County and I feel there’s this weird kind of specific Humboldt County brand of xenophobia that I see over and over again, and often is about HSU students coming from the big cities and it’s a scary thing.”

Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services was not advised prior to SJSU’s arrival, the Lumberjack was purely reacting to student and community concern regarding health endangerment in the midst of a pandemic, not due SJSU coming from a more populous county.

The Lumberjack is an independent news organization. We have enjoyed a healthy, working relationship with the HSU Athletics Department and would never purposefully ignore facts provided in an interview. Implying that we would attempt to mislead our readers is entirely incorrect and harmful to the reputation of this publication and its reporters. 

Through a very complex set of circumstances, the Lumberjack has aimed to provide the most accurate information available to students and the community while working with Athletics to obtain that information.

As a part of the California State University system, Humboldt State is subject to the same rules and limitations as other public universities. This includes court cases that set a precedent for the protection of student produced media under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

By publishing your letter to the editor, we have maintained our position as a public forum by allowing a fair and open space for all to voice their opinion.

While the Lumberjack may receive funding from the university, like many student-run programs on this campus, Bazaar v. Fortune, 489 F.2d 225 (5th Cir. 1973) ruled this does not grant the administration the right nor the permission to control the contents of the campus paper. 

In addition, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District 393 U.S. 503 (1969) ruled that actions of censorship cannot be taken against a paper for content unless the school can prove the content would “materially and substantially interfere” with operations.

Like any other publication, the Lumberjack is protected as a member of the free press. Our duty is to serve the interests of our students and surrounding community by informing them with timely and accurately reported information. While the HSU administration may take issue with our editorial, we stand by our position and how it accurately represents the voices of HSU’s student body.

We will not be retracting our story and will continue to support the efforts our reporters make to ensure the voices of the student press on this campus are not silenced, censored or intimidated.

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One Comment

  1. Frank Whitlatch Frank Whitlatch Friday, October 23, 2020

    I’m confused. I thought that you accepted letters to the editor, which would be considered for posting in the “letters to the editor” section. I did not accuse you of intentionally printing false information – I was letting you know that you had made a mistake in your reporting.

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