No reversal of fortune
Since I consider the CN&R to be the community’s paper, I like to keep readers informed about goings-on here. I introduce new features, staff and interns, as well as scholarship winners and other news. Usually a quick note suffices.
The Chico News & Review Journalism Scholarship for 2007-08 requires elaboration.
The recipient is Mike Murphy. He has a common name, but there’s reason for you to know it. He has written for Chico State’s student paper, The Orion, where he’s now entertainment editor. He’s also been written about, regarding an alleged hazing incident at his fraternity.
Murphy and two other members of Bi Theta Pi face prosecution by the Butte County district attorney’s office. The complaint includes no felonies but has garnered media coverage because of an ironic circumstance: The Chico State students are the first defendants charged under “Matt’s Law,” California’s anti-hazing legislation, named after the late Matthew Carrington—a Chico State student.
The case has not gone to trial, and if it does it may not be resolved until the spring.
The university already has weighed in on the matter. Murphy got the option to withdraw from all his classes last semester, forfeiting about $1,500 in tuition, or serve a semester suspension in the fall. He chose the former and will have to make up those classes over two semesters in order to graduate in spring 2008.
His peers also have weighed in. Editorships at The Orion are considered privileges. Managing Editor Chelsea Accursi declined to accept Murphy’s offer to step down as entertainment editor, and the staff agreed. Their reasoning is multifaceted: He earned his spot, he’s been punished by the university, he hasn’t been convicted, he’s charged with only a misdemeanor, and it’s not the newspaper’s place to judge him.
For comparable reasons, I’m not fighting the Journalism Department’s decision to award him our $1,000 scholarship.
We at the CN&R see hazing is a serious offense, misdemeanor or otherwise. Murphy, from Citrus Heights, was at Chico State concurrently with the Carrington case. Ignorance is not his defense.
Actually, he hasn’t made his defense publicly, on the advice of counsel. He met with me this week, and about all he felt comfortable saying on the record was “it’s tough to sit quietly” when “much of what has been in the headlines and print has been exaggerated.”
Like his colleagues, I’m not in a position to pass judgment. I wasn’t there, and I don’t have all the evidence—the university’s proceedings are confidential, his criminal case is pending. Regardless of the outcome, he’ll carry a stigma that’s just a mouse-click away. (Google “Michael Murphy” “Chico State” and see what comes up in the top five results.)
Would I prefer our scholarship go to a less polarizing individual? Certainly. Would I have liked to learn about it earlier than last week? Absolutely. Am I going to have more involvement in the process next year? Definitely.
But the fact remains I gave Chico State one overriding criterion: journalism ambition. That, Murphy most certainly has. Barring an appeal over new evidence, the judgment of Chico State stands.