The Message

Press On

One of the closed-door discussions mentioned in the suit was unwittingly prompted by the Mirror. Urie learned that SRC council member Jason Brinkley -- who didn't reply to multiple e-mails -- was arrested in November 2003 for driving under the influence. In Urie's article about the bust, SRC president Gustafson said he would bring up the issue at the next council meeting, and he did -- in executive session. The Mirror subsequently requested minutes from this chat, but Urie says what the paper eventually received was dated 2004, not 2003, implying to him that the information was cooked up after the fact "to appease us and make us drop the lawsuit."

Chinyere Tutashinda has a unique view of the discord between the Mirror and the SRC, because she's worked for both institutions. She edits Diversions, the newspaper's arts and entertainment section, and serves as the council's affirmative action/equal opportunity facilitator. "I handled all grievances and made sure that their hiring practices were fair and unbiased," she maintains. In the beginning, neither organization viewed these gigs as conflicts of interest, because Tutashinda wasn't reporting on the SRC for the Mirror, and didn't have a vote on the council. Before long, though, tensions began rising. Tutashinda sat in on all the SRC meetings, and she says that whenever items that council members didn't like wound up in the Mirror, "they would make sly comments to me about how certain things shouldn't get into the paper, and that they're supposed to be confidential." In other words, they accused her of leaking SRC doings to the Mirror, an insinuation she denies. Nonetheless, she believes that her council colleagues continued to view her with suspicion, and when the SRC staged its annual banquet, she didn't receive an invitation.

Matters soon got much uglier for Tutashinda. In late April, she got into an argument with the SRC's Mark O'Donnell over the scheduling of a hiring conference she was unable to attend. Then, on April 27, she received two calls on her cell phone that were filled with racial and sexual epithets: "fucking nigger," "slut" and "everything I ever expected in a stereotypical black bitch," according to a UNC Police Department report. Tutashinda told the officer who took down her information that she didn't recognize the caller's voice but suspected O'Donnell. Her instincts were correct, as a second UNC police report shows. The next day, the document says, O'Donnell told police he'd made the offending calls using the cell phone of another SRC member, James Villalon, from a local watering hole after becoming "extremely drunk." A third SRC rep, Chris Moland, was present as well.

Heath Urie holds up the Mirror to UNC student leaders.
Mark Manger
Heath Urie holds up the Mirror to UNC student leaders.

In response, the university determined that O'Donnell shouldn't receive his diploma at UNC's May 8 graduation ceremony. Tutashinda, who appreciated that O'Donnell confessed, said she wouldn't object to him walking with his class on that day, but other students planned to protest his presence if he dared to do so. In the end, no protest took place, because O'Donnell didn't attend graduation. He's slated to answer a harassment summons on June 8 in Weld County court. Neither Villalon nor Moland have been charged with any wrongdoing.

These events are unrelated to the funding cut and the lawsuit. Still, they demonstrate how tricky things can get when a student council handles the purse strings for a newspaper assigned to report about it. UNC's board of trustees could make adjustments designed to better this situation, but they could also break the Mirror once and for all. University spokesperson Reynolds, herself a former reporter at the Tribune, doubts that the latter will happen. "We want a student newspaper here," she says. "It's a valuable learning tool for our students, and a valuable communication tool for our campus. And even though I know all student newspapers worry about the university wanting to have editorial control, this administration doesn't want editorial control."

The UNC board of trustees' June 16 meeting will go a long way toward proving this point. That is when the members will tackle the university budget for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, including the SRC-recommended slash of the Mirror's funding, and they are expected to consider the idea of letting other parties take over the newspaper. With the prospect of more legal maneuvering on the horizon, Urie is understandably concerned about what may happen next. "I don't have a lot of faith in the university if they don't support the newspaper," he says. "And it remains to be seen if they will."

Getting on and getting off: Last week's column detailed editorial changes at the Denver Post, the newspaper equivalent of a carousel. The ride continues in the business department.

Hitting the highway is Louis Aguilar, who worked briefly at Westword many moons ago. After wrapping up his Post duties on May 21, he heads to the Detroit News, where he'll focus on "outsourcing and the sad decline of American manufacturing," he says. "It means lots of travel, probably to places where a lot of outsourcing takes place: India, China, Mexico." Aguilar is from Detroit, where he still has plenty of family. As a bonus, he allows, the offer entailed "a lot more money and an incredible opportunity to cover something I'm quite interested in. I couldn't pass that up."

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