As the Christopher Newport University admissions office prepared for visits from hundreds of high school students and their parents on April 4, a few staffers tidied up the Newport News campus by collecting and hiding copies of the student newspaper, which contained the headline: “Suspected meth lab on East Campus.”
This alarmed the Captain’s Log staff. Emily Cole, the weekly paper’s editor in chief, asked an admissions employee what he was doing.
“He said, ‘I was told by the administration to do it,’” said Cole, 22, a senior classical studies major from Vienna, Va. “I told him, ‘That’s not okay.’”
Cole said she confronted the school’s dean of admissions, who told her he did not know what had happened. Soon, the hundreds of papers had been returned to the most-trafficked stands on campus. On Sunday, Cole e-mailed the top officials at the public liberal arts school and asked for an explanation.
“It’s something prospective students and their parents had a right to see,” Cole told me on Wednesday in defense of the short article. The collection, she said, seemed “very methodical, very calculated.”
On Tuesday, CNU President Paul S. Trible Jr. e-mailed the entire student body to denounce the collection as “inappropriate,” and to state that the employees involved will be disciplined.
”This action was taken by young employees who love CNU and were concerned that a newspaper article would create a bad impression for visiting prospective students,” wrote Trible, a former Virginia politician. “CNU fully respects the freedom of the press.”
The response upset Cole and other newspaper staff members, who felt they were being accused of not loving their university because they published the article. They want the name of the person who ordered the paper collection, details of the punishment and an apology.
“It is our right and duty to report on the newsworthy events of the CNU campus,” the staff wrote in an editorial published on Wednesday. “We do not report on events with fear that a high school student and his or her parents may pick up the paper. We do not report on events just because they will make the university look good.”
On Wednesday, university spokeswoman Lori Jacobs said the university doesn’t have any further comment on the issue.
Oh, and what about that suspected meth lab in that dorm room more than two weeks ago? What about that?
So far, no arrests have been made, Jacobs said, although two students have been banned from campus pending an investigation by the local police. The public university isn’t naming the students, citing a federal law protecting student discipline records.
Here’s the basic timeline of what information has been released:
On March 30, students received a text message alert from the university at 6:48 p.m. that read: “Wilson Hall evacuated due to suspected meth lab...police are on scene. Students are safe; re-entry is not allowed until area cleared.”
University and Newport News police responded and searched the dorm. In the course of their investigation, a police detective and a drug-sniffing dog searched a parked car, where they found marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to a police news release.
The evidence was submitted to the Virginia Division of Forensic Science Laboratory, according to a university statement dated April 3, and the university police are now forwarding requests for information to the Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The Daily Press in Newport News has extensively covered this story since late March, and one of its columnists criticized the university for not releasing more information about the bust.
“Trible has done impressive work reimagining and rebuilding CNU, and I can understand wanting to protect your brand,” wrote Tamara Dietrich in a column published this week. “But if he's body-blocking First Amendment access to a crime report, or playing campus visitors for fools, this does far more damage to his brand.”
Methamphetamine — a concoction of chemicals also referred to as ice, speed or crystal meth — is far from being a drug of choice on most college campuses. It’s most abused in the Midwest and western states like Nevada, Montana and Wyoming, and least abused on the East Coast, according to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And while some college students do abuse meth, the overall percentage has been declining over the past decade, according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, which is funded by The National Institute on Drug Abuse.
So most campus drug prevention and intervention programs focus on more prevalent drugs like marijuana, coke, ecstasy and prescription drugs.
In October 2010, Georgetown University police discovered what they thought was a meth lab in a freshman’s dorm room. Turns out the chemicals they found are used to make dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a hallucinogen. Georgetown freshman Charles Smith and his high school classmate John Perrone, a freshman at the University of Richmond, were arrested that day and charged. Both pleaded guilty and were put on probation, avoiding jail time.
When I interviewed Cole, the editor in chief, I asked her if meth was a problem on campus. She laughed.
“I have never seen meth,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has done it.”