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UWS closes investigation into April Fools' Day issue of student paper

The University of Wisconsin-Superior's student newspaper, the Promethean, published an April Fools' Day edition that the editorial board said was a satire of social and political issues. Some students on campus say they found it to be offensive rather than satire. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The University of Wisconsin-Superior has closed an investigation into its student newspaper's April 1 edition that sparked criticism that it was a guise for publishing offensive jokes about minorities.

Promethean Editor-in-Chief Marcus White said the staff was notified during a meeting with the UWS Dean of Students Office on Friday afternoon that the office was closing the investigation into a grievance filed against the paper and that no further action will be taken.

The editors are now looking forward with lessons learned, White said.

"As the editor, and I think I can speak for all the editors, I think we're just relieved that it came to the conclusion that it did and that there wasn't a fight ahead of us and that we can now move on. The paper can move on and we can work with the campus community to move on past this and continue to grow the paper and continue to interact with the campus community like we always have," White said.

The editors are students and it was a learning process for everyone involved, he said.

"As a college student, you're always learning," White said. "I think we learn, we grow from this, we see what could have done better, what did we like, what did we not like, take this ahead for next year."

The Promethean, funded through student fees, will be electing next year's editorial board in two weeks and all of the current editors plan to run for re-election, he said.

Officials with the UWS Dean of Students Office declined to comment or didn't return requests for comment Friday.

Friday's news came a day after the Promethean had threatened legal action if the university continued the investigation.

The paper's April 1 edition was filled with fabricated stories that the paper's staff said were satire intended to start a campus discussion on social and political issues. But it drew criticism from some on campus for its targets and its use of derogatory terms for various minority groups.

Debbie Cheslock, a UWS graduate student and student program manager at the UWS Gender Equity Resource Center, filed a formal grievance with the Dean of Students Office, stating that the paper contained demeaning language and statements and that the paper's editorial board, in response to her request to meet to discuss concerns, intimidated her in an attempt to take away her freedom of speech.

"Even though there are freedoms for expression, there are also consequences for inappropriate expressions. There are real consequences for everything that we do, and it is unfortunate that the Promethean's staff and faculty adviser chose a path of sexism, racism, anti-Semitism and other demeaning actions... ," Cheslock wrote in her grievance. "Offending people in protected classes in the name of satire is not free from consequences, nor should it ever be."

Cheslock did not return a request for comment Friday.

Last week the UWS administration "condemned" the issue and said it would investigate the grievance, before closing the matter Friday.

In a statement posted Thursday, before the case was closed, the Promethean had said it was "committed to seeing this battle to the end" and that "further investigations against our organization or any punitive measures taken against our staff or us will result in us searching out legal council and the potential for the newspaper to file against UWS in court."

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization focusing on speech rights on college campuses, sent a letter to UWS administration Wednesday calling for the administration to halt the investigation into the Promethean and adding that "FIRE is committed to utilizing all resources at our disposal to see this matter through to a just conclusion."