About the time the University of Maryland's student newspaper, The Diamondback, was reporting that four Maryland basketball stars were on academic probation because of poor grades, a Diamondback reporter approached the editor of another campus publication with a hot tip:
The 21-year-old editor-in-chief of the Diamondback had failed to register for classes this fall and thus was not even a student himself.
The ironies of the situation were not lost on members of the governing board that oversees operation of the student publications on campus. They voted Tuesday night to require that all top editors of the five student publications be full-time students.
So yesterday, in retaliation, most Dimondback staffers went on strike in the name of freedom of the press.
"The board had supported The Diamondback in" the publishing of the basketball players' grades, said board member Ira Allen, a United Press International reporter. In return, he said, it did not seem unreasonable to require the editor of the campus newspaper to meet the same academic standards required of varsity athletes, who must be enrolled as full-time students.
"For many of these students," said another board member, Barbara Hines, assistant dean of Maryland's school of journalism, "the sole reason for their being on this campus is to work for The Diamondback. We have some difficulty with that. We want them to get an education, too."
At the center of the controversy is Alan Sea, The Diamondback's editor-in-chief and a veteran of four years on the paper's staff. A part-time student in the past, Sea said yesterday that he had been "unsuccessful in registering for classes this fall." He declined to discuss his academic status further.
The real issue in the dispute, Sea said, is that directors of the governing board of Maryland Media, the umbrella organization for campus publications," are trying to be the editors of The Diamondback, and we think that's very, very dangerous."
"This is not a matter of censorship," said board member Allen, himself a former student editor on The Diamondback. "We're trying to encourage professionalism, but we're trying to keep professional nonstudents from reaping the benefits of being the editor-in-chief of a campus publication."
The controversy surrounding Sea surfaced last month when a Diamond back reporter went to John Pritchard, editor of The Argus, a student feature magazine, with the information that Sea was not a student at Maryland.
"We checked it out with the unversity and we found out he was not a student," Pritchard said.
Sta, 21, who says he has more than half the credits he needs to earn a degree, said he does not feel "that I would have the time to be a full-time student and maintain my responsibilities in this job."
"The staff and obviously myself think this is a matter of principle," Sea said, adding that he fully intends to pursue his academic career until he earns a degree.
As an out-of-state resident, Sea, who comes from Ohio, said he could not afford the $2,174 he would have to pay in tuition. But board member Allen disputed this, noting that Sea is paid $4,400 a year for being editor-in-chief of The Diamondback.
Yesterday, striking Diamondback news staffers decided to submit for publication in today's Diamondback only an editorial detailing their version of the dispute with Maryland Media. Nonstriking Maryland Media business manager Michael Fribush said the newspaper would be published today containing that editorial, plus a statement from Maryland Media and some advertising. He said he was "reasonably sure" there would be a paper Friday, but that it probably would contain only advertising. After Friday, the paper is scheduled to suspend publication for the semester break and resume publication in January.
Assistant Dean Hines said the full-time student requirement would only require a student to take a minimum of three courses a semester.
"It's a sad commentary when a student admits he can't handle three courses when most of our students handle five or six," Hines said.
"When we hire an editor, we hire someone who is responsible and who is a student and who is going to represent student thought," she said.
Jeff Valentine, a reporter for The Evening Sun in Baltimore and chairman of The Maryland Media board, said the directors will meet again Wednesday at Sea's request to consider the issue further.