The Howard University faculty senate, saying it was "unalterably opposed to censorship," yesterday passed a resolution asking Howard's board of trustees to rescind policies governing public relations that are supported by university president James E. Cheek.
The policies in question were adopted last September and, among other things, require that press conferences be cleared in advance through the director of university relations. They also state that "university experts" called for interviews should notify the university in advance or "as soon as possible after" the interview is over.
The policies goes on to say that "invitations for media coverage" and "issuances of press releases shall be generated by the department of university relations."
The senate, which voted 49-3 to oppose the rules, represents Howard's approximately 1,500 faculty and administrative staff members. The move to take the resolution directly to the trustees, thereby bypassing university administrators, was seen by some as a slap at Howard officials.
"The senate is unalterably opposed to censorship and any dimunition of the rights of scholars in the faculty or student ranks," said the resolution. "We strongly support the preservation and free exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as the traditional rights of the community of scholars."
Howard spokesmen and a vice president for the university immediately said that the resolution was prompted by a "misunderstanding" of Howard's policies.
"There is no effort on the part of this university to abridge or stifle anyone's First Amendment rights. We are certainly not censoring anyone," said Alan Hermesch, Howard's information officer. "People think that we want to interfere with their freedom of expression. We don't want to, nor do we intend to."
Roger Estep, who as vice president for development and university relations prevented the publication of an article by a Howard professor in the university's "New Directions" magazine in 1981, said yesterday the article was pulled because it contained factual errors.
"My basic premise is that there is no censorship in the policy statement," said Estep. "We are talking about the integrity of research and scholarly pursuit. We have a responsibility to see that, when we make statements, they are accurate."
Cheek was unavailible for comment yesterday.
Estep said the policies were designed to insure a "good working relationship" with the media and so that university statements are made in an accurate and sensitive manner.
But several faculty members at the meeting yesterday said the resolution was necessary to reaffirm academic freedom. "The purpose is to get the board of trustees to take notice of censorship at the university and to get the board to act against it," said journalism professor Samuel F. Yette.
The senate also considered a resolution criticizing Howard's recent decision to appeal a suit charging racial discrimination won by a white former faculty member. A quorum was lost before a vote could be taken.