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The award-winning Southwestern College newspaper may cease to be printed.

College officials say the newspaper failed to follow college contracting rules, but students say they are being muzzled because of their critical coverage of a college administration under fire.

College officials says that the Sun, its student newspaper, has failed to follow a 20-year-old policy that states that the printer must be chosen “in accordance with standard college procedure for all bids.” Chief of Communications Chris Bender said the rules are supposed to ensure that the college gets the best deals. Instead of signing a contract with one printer, the Sun has simply purchased printing at will.

“We buy it like you would buy office supplies,” said Max Branscomb, faculty advisor for the Sun. If one printer is busy, they use another. “This has been the standard practice for more than three decades.”

Students and the newspaper faculty adviser say that the paper is being attacked for political reasons. Branscomb was first contacted about two weeks ago by Donna Arnold, dean of the school of arts and communication, who told him the newspaper had to seek bids for printing. He disagreed, arguing in a memo that he had long been given freedom to choose printers, based on a set budget.

Yesterday, Arnold e-mailed Branscomb, saying “the printing of the SUN newspaper may have ramifications.”

“What Dean Arnold told them is they have to be in compliance with the same business practices that every other department of campus is complaint with,” Bender said. He pointed out that even if printing stops, the newspaper can still be published online.

The Sun was supposed to go to print tomorrow. If the printing question has to go to the college board, students fear the board could prevent them from printing before a November election in which three members of the college board are up for re-election.

Their campaigns are tied to the controversial tenure of Superintendent Raj Chopra, who has been in the crosshairs of faculty members after making unpopular, unilateral cuts. The Sun has written extensively about the clashes and their campaigns. Its upcoming issue was slated to include articles about the candidates, the ongoing battle over whether the college will keep its state accreditation, and a summer fundraiser held by the college vice president in which he raised money from companies whose contracts he oversees.

“It seems very convenient. They’re pulling this ancient policy out of nowhere,” said Lyndsay Winkley, a student writer for the Sun.

Chopra has been criticized for using heavy handed tactics to quash criticism in the past, most notably when four professors were banned from campus after students protested budget cuts. The professors were reinstated, but Winkley and another student wrote that it was “the last straw for many faculty members.”

“While the district may try to claim that it is doing its due diligence in following all regulations, it seems to us like an opportune moment to shut out this important (and legally protected) voice,” Janet Mazzarella, vice president of the faculty union, wrote in an e-mail to faculty yesterday.

Students are now exploring whether they can raise money to print the paper independently, seeking donations from community groups in South County. Winkley and Branscomb estimated that it would cost $3,000 to publish an issue. The Sun typically prints 10 to 12 issues annually.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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