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CMU blocking media coverage of controversial panel, professor says school is "overreacting"

a statue of CMU's insignia
Boudreau says CMU officials mentioned a policy prohibiting media from entering CMU classrooms. The journalism professor said he's never heard of that rule or seen it enforced.

Central Michigan University Journalism Professor Timothy Boudreau has several times over the years invited controversial, or perhaps downright offensive guests to speak to his classes. Tuesday, members of the Westboro Baptist Church and a Satanic activist who was formerly a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple of Detroit will visit Boudreau’s Law of Mass Communication class. Boudreau says the point is to underline the importance of the First Amendment. 

“I want my students to think critically about the first amendment [and] its purpose in society. And I want to demonstrate some of the issues and conflicts that arise from the exercise of free expression,” Boudreau said.

But journalists from external media organizations aren't allowed to enter the classroom to cover the event. 

Boudreau has allowed members of the media to enter class to report on similar controversial guest presentations in past years. But Boudreau says this year CMU administrators told him journalists are prohibited from CMU classrooms. 

“It’s the first time I’ve heard them express this level of concern,” Boudreau said. “I think they genuinely want to ensure safety on campus. I guess I just fail to see how barring media coverage of these speakers in any way advances that interest of campus safety. I think they’re overreacting."

A CMU spokesperson said in an email that university officials are trying to "protect the integrity of the learning experience rather than making this a larger media event." The spokesperson wrote that some students attending Boudreau's class write for the CMU student newspaper, and those students will be allowed  to cover the event; however recording of audio or video during the presentation is reportedly prohibited.  

Boudreau says he was told the university has an official policy prohibiting media from entering classrooms, but says he had never heard of that policy before, nor had some of his colleagues.

“It was never an issue in the past. The media have routinely covered other classes, mine as well as my colleagues,” Boudreau said. “So I was just sort of taken aback by it.”

The Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun newspaper reports that CMU College of Communication and Fine Arts Dean Janet Hethorn sent an email after a meeting with Boudreau that said in part, no outside journalists would be allowed in the classroom because, “CMU students, in enrolling in this CMU course, have not consented to authorizing CMU to allow media to attend their classroom discussion.”

It's in that email where Hethorn reportedly says audio or video recording "of any kind" won't be allowed during the class. 

Boudreau says students never took issue with journalists coming into his classrooms in the past. He says he shares administrators’ concerns about safety, but says restricting media access is taking things too far.

“I think they’re overreacting,” Boudreau said. “The students never had a problem with that, nor did I. And it would seem a bit ironic for me to be conducting a class on, among other things, free press, to turn around and say no [reporters] can’t cover this event.”

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