Press "Enter" to skip to content

Editorial: Why I left the Miscellany News

The other day, I happened upon a recent Miscellany News editorial entitled “Why We Publish: Ed Board reflects on student journalism.” The piece, which takes a remarkably anodyne, even self-congratulatory look at the Miscellany News’ role at Vassar, reads, “a key reason we publish is our commitment to creating and maintaining a forum for Vassar students to share their thoughts and opinions and exercise their right to be heard.” It goes on to state that the editors, “firmly believe that the Miscellany News is first and foremost a newspaper by the students, for the students.” As a former columnist for the Miscellany News, I must respectfully disagree with this assessment.

While I would like to celebrate the tremendous and shocking success that the VPR has seen over the last year, including getting a feature in Inside Higher Ed and being picked up by The Hill, the Washington Examiner and other news outlets, there are bigger fish to fry. In my last piece for the VPR before I depart Vassar for a year abroad, I wish to reveal to our readers my experiences at the Miscellany News, and how they led me to co-found the Vassar Political Review. The VPR wasn’t founded to compete with or even exist in the same journalistic space as the Miscellany News, at least for the most part. We simply wanted to provide well-informed, fact-based and pluralistic political commentary to improve discourse at Vassar. Lately, however, we’ve been drifting more and more towards news and analysis. We have come to believe that our classmates would be better served with a VPR that fights for their hearts and their minds, rather than one that occupies its own unique space in the realm of political commentary. We feel that there is a black hole at Vassar where quality reporting—ethical, professional and informed—should be. That is not to say there isn’t good journalism at Vassar. I have encountered many dedicated, high quality and ethical journalists at the Miscellany News and elsewhere at Vassar, and much good work has been featured in the pages of the Miscellany News. However, there are deficits that are simply too large to ignore, and because of those deficits, we have a journalism scene fraught with misinformation, one-sided commentary and lazy dedication to ethical practices.

In speaking on my experiences, I wish to diagnose serious issues and abuses within the publication that I was witness or subject to in an effort to encourage the editors to be more self-critical and reform-minded. The ideal outcome of this would be for no writer to experience there what I did. I hope that together, the VPR and the Miscellany News can both play positive roles in informing our classmates as they deserve to be informed, and give aspiring young journalists opportunities that will foster—not inhibit—their drives to become better writers and reporters. This article is not in retaliation to the Miscellany News for my grievances, nor is it a response to any particular event by the Miscellany News. Instead, it is a deliberate call for reform which I’d planned to write months in advance in some form.

I wrote for the Miscellany News’ opinions section between November 2016 and October 2017, first as a guest columnist for several months and then, starting in February 2017, as a staff columnist. I wrote about electoral politicscampus affairs and foreign and domestic policy. My tenure was controversial, but I nonetheless contributed substantive writing to the opinions section. I held myself to a high standard; I researched every topic on which I wrote, produced high-quality political commentary and worked rigorously to inform my fellow students. I was also willing to say things that many people didn’t want to hear, and I didn’t cower from the hard truths that needed to be said. Even as a liberal, I found things about Vassar’s status quo that needed to be called out. These important issues would be left untouched by the rest of the Miscellany News staff. That’s not journalism. My willingness to put forth contentious opinions put me in bad standing with the Miscellany News’ editors and the political activist class of students, and ultimately put a target on my back throughout my tenure.

Even during my interview for the staff columnist position, my interviewees, all leading editors now, made me uneasy when they expressed concern that my white maleness would clash with their efforts to diversify their paper (to which I wish I had responded, “show me the POC candidates fighting for this position and I’ll gladly step aside.” There weren’t any). In the end, I was given the job. However, I believe this was simply because I was the only person applying, regardless of the quality of my work.

I was deeply dissatisfied with the editorial leadership of the Miscellany News. As a writer, my work was unappreciated and devalued, in large part because of its frequently centrist or conservative perspectives. At times during the editing process, critical sentences were removed, and others were added that completely changed my arguments or made statements unrepresentative of my views. Editors hedged my words on my behalf to avoid even mild controversy or offense from the readers. This process was not at all transparent and these crucial changes were made entirely without my consent. I would only find out about the changes when I got my hands on a freshly printed copy like everyone else. 

In one piece I argued against intolerance towards those with conservative views, writing, “I believe that a balance can be drawn between accommodating those who think differently politically.” My editor added this hedge: “(while, of course, ensuring that prejudiced ideas are properly confronted).” I felt that this statement warped my argument, changing the focus from palatable conservatives to fervent racists, and shut down my previous argument by encouraging “confrontation,” which I believe to be a call for ideologically-driven harassment of right-of-center students. Whether or not my interpretation is correct, I was not consulted on these changes which ultimately warped my argument. And no, this is not a popular stance to take and taking it won’t win me any support. However, it is not write to change a writer’s core arguments without any oversight or discussion. That is something we do our best to avoid at the VPR.

One article was outright rejected because it was allegedly “dismissive of anti-oppressive political activism” and “beyond insensitive,” according to the opinions editor at the time. This was simply not the case. The piece argued against violence in politics, drawing comparisons between the modern Antifa and the #punchanazi movement to the Russian communist revolution of 1917 (while you may or may not agree with this connection, I’ve met Vassar students who have said in no uncertain terms that they should like to see me die in a communist revolution, so this isn’t much of a rhetorical leap). The article made the point—from the perspective of myself as a liberal—that left-wing violence undermines one’s position by giving neo-nazi apologists the moral and legal high ground. The column was later published on a different, high-quality student publication at another university with no issue. The editor of the non-partisan publication, The Contemporary Group, never once posited the idea that what I wrote was in any way offensive, or that I should reconsider publishing it.

When I wrote a particularly controversial piece, urging caution when casting ballots for unflinchingly progressive VSA candidates—who, in my experience, engendered completely non-committal attitudes towards the rights of students who wish to speak their minds and still be protected from harassment—and arguing against a resurgence of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, the Miscellany News’ editorial board penned a rebuttal of my piece, without my knowledge, which misrepresenting my claims. The rebuttal was mostly based off a topic—not politicizing the VSA—that wasn’t even what the piece was about. Instead, it seized upon a title that the editors themselves wrote and expanded that title to be, essentially, my entire argument. I was told that rebutting a staff columnist was extremely rare and without precedent in the Miscellany News’ recent history. The rebuttal alienated me from the editorial board and vice versa. Afterward, I was denied even an interview for an editorial position, despite my dedicated work, without being given so much as an explanation. My apparent blacklisting from an editorial was, incidentally, a move explicitly prohibited by the board’s own bylaws.

Finally, towards the end of my tenure, I was railroaded through a brash “impeachment” attempt for reasons that both the VSA and the administration acknowledged were dubious at best. My infraction? I missed a single deadline, I scheduled an interview on my own (which is not against any rules) and finally and perhaps most drastically, I was accused of failing to adhere to one of the VSA’s guiding principles. The specific principle I allegedly violated was “to value and work towards anti-racism and intersectional feminism.” Despite writing almost exclusively about electoral politics, policy and strategy and not gender or racial issues, I was purported to be a racist and sexist. In other words, despite being a Hillary-supporting liberal Democrat, I wasn’t a progressive enough writer for the editors’ ideological tastes. When confronted with the absurdity of their case, the editors relented and agreed not to go forth with impeachment, but still insisted on “censuring” me despite backing down from at least two of their claims. If journalistic malpractice was a crime (and oh do I wish it was), I would have a serious case.

In October 2017, the left-wing activist pre-org Healing 2 Action made unverified claims—amplified by support from the VSA—about William A. Jacobson, a Jewish conservative law professor from Cornell University who came to speak at Vassar about hate speech in relation to the First Amendment. They called him a white supremacist, asserted his speech was being publicized on white supremacist websites and said that white supremacists from the outside community were planning to storm our campus to attend the talk. There was just one hitch; it was all made up. Of the four websites listed, all were boilerplate conservative sites—including Jacobson’s own blog, Legal Insurrection. There was no evidence provided for the claim that white supremacists were coming to campus.

I put my foot down and penned a piece exposing the claims for what they were: misleading performativity. I was the only person at the Miscellany News to refute these claims despite the fact that they were simultaneously misleading and at the center of the most significant political event at Vassar in my time here. My only regret is that I hedged.

Faced with the fear of being pushed into another impeachment process in retaliation to my willingness to speak out, just days after resolving the first, I wrote an addendum on the article that asserted the misrepresentative view of Jacobson as a white supremacist and then resigned. It took months, and the threat of a potential libel suit by Jacobson, for the editors to take the addendum down in full despite my repeated pleas for them to do so and the fact that the information contained was entirely fabricated. They were unswayed by these pleas for journalistic integrity until I threatened to go public with their willingness to keep misinformation on their site.

The week after I resigned, the Miscellany News gave H2A, the group that had just blatantly misled their hundreds of followers, some of my former column space to pat themselves on the back for their efforts in organizing students in protest against the benign Jacobson the previous week. Nobody at the Miscellany News besides me ever brought up their mistruths. That willingness to report the truth is essentially what lost me my position.

While the Miscellany News does much laudable work, my experience was soiled by abuse of power, a demand for ideological purity and inefficiency in doing important journalistic work— including exposing blatant and high profile mistruths by student groups on campus—when that work would put them in an awkward position with progressive campus activists. There was a pathological willingness to obliterate a writer’s arguments and ignore the most basic tenets of journalistic integrity simply to avoid controversy. This is exactly the kind of behavior one might find at Fox News, a source that most at Vassar can agree is not generally reliable. Why don’t we demand more from our student newspaper?

After departing the Miscellany News, Alexander and I founded the Vassar Political Review which launched in January. As previously mentioned, it has been met with tremendous success over the semester which we believe was facilitated by our transparency and progressive power structure. When writing the constitution of this publication, we specifically designed power structures that wouldn’t see the same abuses that I witnessed and experienced at the Miscellany News. There is a robust system of checks and balances keeping VPR writers and editors from being forced out of their positions or having to fear not being published on account of their ideological stances. Our editing process is a suggestion-based one, in which we work with writers incrementally so that they feel comfortable with all our changes, which are almost always stylistic. We do not, as a publication, have a political lean, and only articles and writers that are truly offensive—objectively racist, homophobic, sexist etc.—will be turned away. It suffices to say we haven’t received any articles of this sort from the Vassar community. Indeed, we will gladly publish content we personally disagree with. A person once asked if they could publish an article about how the VPR is bad for Vassar. We said yes. This is the kind of rigorous dedication to a free and equitable discussion of ideas that we wish to see out of the Miscellany News as well. Only with that level of commitment to truly balanced commentary will the Miscellany News achieve what I believe to be journalistic success.

To reiterate, my purpose in writing this piece is not simply to villainize and attack the Miscellany News. On the contrary, I wish to push the Miscellany News to reform. But the fact is, I was maligned at and pushed out of the Miscellany News for speaking truth to power and refusing to back down from making my deeply held political beliefs heard. This will never happen at the Vassar Political Review. That’s why I can confidently say that we are truly a paper by the students, for the students.


Learn more:

The Vassar Political Review Constitution

The Miscellany News Bylaws

Poughkeepsie Journal – For their own sake, Vassar College students should engage with the local community

Andrew Solender ’20 is a political science major, the co-Editor-in-Chief of the VPR, a former columnist for the Miscellany News, a writer for Chronogram Magazine and a contributor to the Poughkeepsie Journal and Psychology Today.

24 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous May 10, 2018

    This article sounds like a boy whining about being an asshole and then getting slapped on the wrist for it. Unfortunately, you’re not a good liberal. But you’re a good neoliberal.

    • Hallie Carton Hallie Carton May 10, 2018

      Well hey at least he didn’t publish it anonymously 👀

      • Anonymous Anonymous May 10, 2018

        Yeah, I’ve got a problem with your “holier than thou because I don’t publish things anonymously” mentality. Obviously y’all have been dragged for your opinions, but I don’t think y’all have ever been dragged for your race regardless of what opinion you have. I choose to write anonymously to protect myself from assholes coming after me with racial slurs. Your white ass thinks it’s because I’m avoiding accountability.

        • Hallie Carton Hallie Carton May 10, 2018

          Does anyone else pick up on the irony that you’re basing your attack on our race when we’ve said nothing about yours? And don’t say “y’all”, this is Andrew’s piece and his experience alone. I believe that journalists should be held to the bare minimum standard of telling the truth, but I personally have had no bad experience with the misc.

          • Anonymous Anonymous May 10, 2018

            I didn’t say you said anything about mine. You just came at me with a holier than thou attitude for publishing my opinion anonymously and I explained my desire to remain anonymous to you saying that in past experiences commenting online, I’ve experienced immense racism. And pretty obviously you wouldn’t be critiquing my anonymity if you had experiences like this. So calm down. Also “y’all” because like aren’t you the new editor? So isn’t this piece a little bit your responsibility too? Or do editors just let everything come through regardless of what it is??? Because then that changes the game.

            • Andrew Solender Andrew Solender May 10, 2018

              Hi OP,

              This is indeed my experience and my experience alone. Though we all agree with the reforms this piece proposes, the history it narrates is mine alone. That said, we are committed to a free and open dialogue and would never attack you racially for stating your opinions. If you’d like to craft a rebuttal to this piece, anonymously or otherwise, we’d be more than happy to work with you and get that published.

            • Hallie Carton Hallie Carton May 10, 2018

              Not regardless of what it is, but mostly yes. Like this article states, you could write a piece describing why the VPR is bad for Vassar, or as Andrew said, craft a rebuttal, and we would be required by our constitution to publish it. We don’t publish anything racist, sexist, threatening ect., but anything else is fair game provided it’s well-written and the writer is open to grammatical edits. I am the upcoming managing editor while Andrew is away and there are pieces on this website I strongly disagree with but that doesn’t mean they won’t be published so long as they aren’t harmful to a demographic or individual. You’re right, I have not experienced racism, and I am sorry for your experiences. However, at Vassar it’s common for the opinions of white males to be dismissed because of their race and it seemed like that’s what you were attempting to do with Andrew’s piece, though I apologize if that is a misinterpretation.

  2. Anonymous 2 Anonymous 2 May 10, 2018

    I feel that this argument is very one-sided and biased towards what you feel happened to uou versus what actually happened. Maybe it was coincidental that staff ed had the same topic. Maybe you weren’t scolded for scheduling an interview on your own just because it was you. I would like to see the Misc’s response to this actually. And I want to see their side of this story. You make a lot of serious accusations, despite your claim that this was not written to attack the Misc. And I think it inherently attacks the Misc without giving them a voice or a chance to respond. I believe they deserve a voice at this table.

    • Andrew Solender Andrew Solender May 10, 2018

      Hi dedicated reader, I just want to make a couple points of clarification:
      – The staff editorial was a direct rebuttal to my piece the week prior. This is not a disputed fact.
      – I’m sorry that you feel this is “one sided and biased,” but such is the nature of an opinion editorial. If the Miscellany wants to respond they have many avenues open to them to do so, including their own newspaper. They have a voice at this table, arguably a much louder voice than mine.

  3. Anonymous 3 Anonymous 3 May 10, 2018

    Andrew, I don’t like you or your opinions but I do sincerely appreciate what you are doing with the VPR. Thank you for holding Vassar student ‘journalism’ to a higher standard than its current pathetic state.

  4. Anonymous 5 Anonymous 5 May 11, 2018

    Why was Anonymous 4’s comment deleted? Guess we’re not really all about giving all voices a platform now are we? Only the ones we like or agree with?

    • Hallie Carton Hallie Carton May 11, 2018

      Hi, thank you for bringing this to my attention. The decision to delete that comment was made by the writer of this piece, without letting the rest of the staff know. I can assure you that this won’t happen again, unless the comment goes against the publication requirements of our paper- to not publish anything racist, sexist or otherwise threatening- or unless the entire article is removed. We strive to make every student feel as though they have a voice, whether we agree with them or not, and this will not happen in the upcoming year.

  5. Anonymous 4 Anonymous 4 May 11, 2018

    Hey, Anon 4 here.

    I’m very concerned about why my comment was deleted, as I felt it raised valid concerns about the reason why VPR was founded, its motivations, and the humanity of the people behind the Misc.

    As I recall writing, I was concerned that the writer of this article only founded the paper to force his own voice into the political sphere rather unchecked. I think one of the advantages of working for the Misc is checks and balances, the inability to actually just write or post whatever you want.

    And as you want the political review to become a credible source, it loses a little bit of credibility when a writer for the political review trashes another publication while declaring that they’re not actually trashing that publication. This article makes serious accusations with little to back them up and seems like a direct, salty response to an staff ed the Misc probably wrote with good intentions. As the editor-in-chief of a new publication, the mature and professional thing to do is let the bad blood with the Misc go, move on, and continue to do your own thing, not waste breath and time attacking another publication.

    The final point that I recall raising was the fact that the Misc elects a new editorial board every year and that the editorial board is in a constant state of change and fluctuation as roles and responsibilities change. Quite likely, the people that the writer has qualms with are no longer working on the editorial board. It seems in bad taste to write an article that may hurt them when they had nothing to do with this situation.

    I don’t believe that any of this went against the publication requirements of the paper. I would like to know why my comment was deleted, and if this is a normal procedure. It seems in bad taste to declare that everyone gets a voice and then delete mine.

    • Anonymous 6 Anonymous 6 May 11, 2018

      The author also knows that the Misc went to final print this week and therefore would not be able to respond to this piece.

    • Alexander Barzacanos Alexander Barzacanos May 11, 2018

      Hi Anon 4,

      For clarity, I have decided to reproduce your original comment below,

      “I don’t think you lost your position at the Misc because you ‘tell the truth’. Plenty of other people publish controversial opinions in the Misc. I believe Jesse Horowitz does so from time to time. Sylvan Perlmutter published an article about Founder’s Day last year which he was heavily berated for by the campus community and he still writes. I think you lost your voice at the Misc because you have an annoying superiority complex and you think you’re so much better than everyone else and that’s not an attitude really valued anywhere. So you started your own publication where you basically run unchecked and publish whatever you want, but that’s not the reality that is true journalism. Months after you stopped writing for the Misc and launched what you say is a successful publication, you’re still using your publication to whine about the Misc when you could be an adult, let it go, and do your own thing. I just hope you realise that there are real people behind the Misc. They’re probably not the same people who made you mad the first time. They’re probably just trying to have fun and learn about student journalism and this article might hurt them. Not everything is about you.”

      Best,
      Alexander Barzacanos, Editor-in-Chief.

      • Anonymous 4 Anonymous 4 May 11, 2018

        Thanks!

    • Anonymous 4 Anonymous 4 May 11, 2018

      Also, to add:

      In my original comment, I also provided examples of writers from the Misc who write controversial material to refute the idea that the writer of this article was kicked off the Misc for their commitment to the truth. I would’ve remembered if my original comment hadn’t been deleted.

      • Yet Another Anon Yet Another Anon May 11, 2018

        Not sure that Mr. Perlmutter’s founders day article, which was publicly disavowed by the misc and slapped with a harsh addendum, is a good example of journalistic integrity. In fact, they say they regretted publishing it entirely. How many other articles have been turned down by the misc? One wonders.

      • Yet Another Anon Yet Another Anon May 11, 2018

        Also, I find it odd that you’d so call someone an egotist while also being worried about the feelings of the misc editorial board.

  6. Anonymous 6 Anonymous 6 May 11, 2018

    Also, the bylaws attached are from 2008. The Misc has substantially revised these bylaws a number of times since then.

  7. Matthew Vassar Matthew Vassar May 11, 2018

    The writer of this piece creates an (admittedly heavy-handed) criticism of the way in which the misc operates, and you guys immediately lob expletives and accusations of self-importance upon him. Nowhere in the article does he say or suggest the people running the misc are evil or assholes, though you’ve happily rendered that criticism on him. Ad hominem shouldn’t have a place in discourse.

  8. Evelyn Frick Evelyn Frick May 12, 2018

    Hi! I find it very journalistically and ethically sketchy that 1) An editor-in-chief can publish has published an article about a fellow publication (based on a personal vendetta), as this provides almost no oversight on an article. And 2) that a writer of a piece (and again, an editor-in-chief) deleted a comment that critiques that article. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Also Drew, seriously get over The Misc. It’s tiring.

    • Yet Another Anon Yet Another Anon May 12, 2018

      Yeah almost as ethically sketchy as labelling a satire article about founder’s day themes as “perpetuating narratives of violence.” What a great attempt at character assassination… I don’t know the writer of this piece but I have reason to suspect the way the misc treated him is accurate.

  9. A Suggestion A Suggestion May 12, 2018

    Did it ever occur to any of you that you can critique an article or an opinion without personally attacking the author? It would be nice if you could all take one step back from your computer screens and anonymous posting abilities to realize that Andrew is a person. Do you have to agree with his opinions? No. Do you have the right to critique what he is saying? Absolutely! However, I think it’s just wrong to attack him. There is a person behind this article with real feelings and a real life. Maybe consider that and try to be kind, anonymously bashing people isn’t a good look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *