On the one hand, if 43 out of 47 students working at the Washington Square News, a quasi-independent newspaper of New York University, determined that their working conditions were so intolerable that they could no longer suffer the paper’s new advisor, Dr. Kenna Griffin, they did the right thing. They quit.
On the other hand, that doesn’t make their complaints sound, just theirs.
Three weeks ago, a student-run newspaper with ties to New York University got a new editorial adviser: Kenna Griffin, a former reporter and editor who had taught journalism at Oklahoma City University for 16 years. She started advising the paper, Washington Square News, remotely from Oklahoma.
Griffin was not only hired by NYU to be the advisor, but has some not insubstantial experience in reporting. Granted, that doesn’t mean she’s God’s Gift to Journalism, but it makes her a lot more knowledgeable about it than a college sophomore. Presumably, someone at NYU decided that she was a good choice to advise the students at WSN and did so for a reason. And so she did what she was hired to do, shape up these inchoate journalist wannabes into future reporters.
“Dr. Griffin was increasingly rude and disrespectful to the staff, despite being repeatedly reminded that her words had a negative effect on staff morale,” the post said. “Dr. Griffin was unnecessarily harsh, and when confronted about her behavior, would defend it by arguing that WSN’s staff is too immature to accept critique.”
Since the complaints are both conclusory and subjective, neither of which reflects well on the students’ ability to express themselves, it’s hard to know what they’re complaining about. Did she not sandwich her moderated critiques between compliments, as is the pedagogical mechanism of choice these days since it’s considered offensive to just tell someone that they did something wrong?
Although, there’s a clue given when the students’ complaint goes on to contend that it wasn’t merely her being “unnecessarily harsh” (who decides what is “necessarily harsh”?) but that Griffin has a duty to bend to their complaints rather than reply that they were “too immature to accept critique.” Maybe they are. Maybe not. Perhaps parsing their grievances will give a clue.
- Belittled the entire staff, with inappropriate behavior for an editorial advisor to students in a way definitely not how a professional should speak to other young professionals.
The staff is made up of NYU students, not “professionals.” That doesn’t make her behavior appropriate, but this reflects a pervasive issue in higher ed these days, where students, who by definition are there to learn and not because they already know everything (or anything), or at least know more than their professors, believe they are “professionals.” They’re not. They’re just students.
- Refused to concede that people interviewed and photographed would want to be anonymous for safety reasons.
It seems that what’s meant here isn’t conceding what people want, but what the paper should do. Does the paper acquiesce to the generic feelings of “unsafety” by not naming people or does it identify the people in pictures and interviews because it’s a newspaper.
- Dismissed trigger warnings on articles on sexual assault and marked them unnecessary.
This complaint seems sufficiently self-evidence as to require no explanation of the divide.
- An editor stood up to Dr. Griffin’s demands and refused to edit out the word “murder” from our article about Breonna Taylor’s murder at the hands of Louisville cops. Dr. Griffin demanded the Managing Editor discipline them, as she “didn’t want to have a full deal publicly.”
Whether one chooses to call the killing of Breonna Taylor murder as a general matter is one question. Whether it’s an accurate word to use in a newspaper report is another.
There are quite a few other grievances, followed up by a lengthy list of demands, beginning with the firing of Dr. Griffin. Of particular note is demand 11.
All the editorial advisor’s decisions are subject to discussion and vote by editorial staff.
To be fair, much of what the students raise is the subject of a great deal of controversy within journalism today. Seasoned reporters argue that they should no longer report all the facts, but only those which comport with their “moral clarity,” their personal version of “truth” such that a reader can’t possibly learn of facts, claims or arguments that might lead them to a conclusion with which the reporter disagrees.
Other issues, such as trigger warnings or what constitutes sufficiently “respectful” speech from a prof to a student is more a matter of these peculiar times, when the relative concept of what and how a prof is required to speak to a student is in a bizarre state of flux. Professor Kingsfield is no longer appreciated. It’s hard to blame the students for believing they are entitled to dictate how Dr. Griffin should be allowed to speak to them; this has become the norm on campus.
From Griffin’s perspective, she may be trying to toughen up these student journalist wannabes to do the hard work of reporting. Sometimes it will be under adverse conditions. Sometimes in the heat of the newsroom, they will have an order barked at them by an editor running ten stories who doesn’t have half a day to massage their fears and feelings, and just needs them to use the accurate word.
Dr. Griffin likely has the best of intentions, raising tough, smart, hardworking, fearless, honest journalists. After all, these are students, despite their unwarranted self-importance, and the point of a college newspaper is to prepare them to be real journalists in the real world someday. But as 43 resignations show, teaching students is no longer about pedagogy.
If Dr. Griffin can’t teach them by being a bulldozer (assuming the students’ complaints have any merit), that’s the nature of the gig in academia these days. The students may desperately need to be taught, but whether they can be and how to do so is Dr. Griffin’s job. Now that students have been trained to believe they’re peers with their profs, entitled to “respect” and an education where never is heard a discouraging word, teaching them to grow up, toughen up, isn’t going to be easy.