Journalists Threaten to Send Topless Women to Campus of Florida Atlantic University

Go Topless protest in Miami Beach.
Go Topless protest in Miami Beach.
Photo by Logan Fazio

A weekly newspaper, the South Florida Gay News, has long been distributed on the campus of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, a public institution.

But according to SFGN's editor, Jason Parsley (a graduate of FAU), earlier this month, "My delivery guy showed up to FAU and realized there was no newspaper rack anymore." When Parsley asked an FAU staff person why, she "basically said that the racks have been removed due to renovations" and asked him to suspend delivery of the papers in the meantime.  

Parsley asked when renovations would be done. He was told May 2017. "I was expecting two weeks or three weeks —  but a year and a half to rebuild a newspaper rack? They said if they found place in the meantime, they would contact me." He says he bypassed the low-level coordinator he'd been dealing with and sent an email to the executive director of facilities management "asking for us to work out a solution together, and I never heard anything back."

Parsley says he was suspicious. He wondered if it was retaliation, because just two weeks earlier, he had published a story critical of FAU. 

So he turned to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and a person known for antagonizing the school to take action: Michael Koretzky, a South Florida journalist who has advised the FAU student paper since 1998 and been a provocateur just about as long. He was fired from his paid role in 2010 but continued advising the paper in a volunteer capacity — a move that riled the administration, which once threatened that he could be arrested. He has consistently encouraged students to exercise their First Amendment rights and to take the administration to task for poor decisions. He serves as a student media watchdog for SPJ.

Koretzky points out that FAU "built its last parking garage in less time" than it would take to fix the newspaper rack. 

In his role as "duly elected troublemaker for SPJ covering the Southeastern United States," he felt compelled to teach the university that "freedom of the press extends to distribution of the press... Circulation is a First Amendment issue, and there's case law to back it up."

Parsley and Koretzky brainstormed how to deal with the latest challenge. It so happened that SFGN's latest issue featured an article about South Floridians involved in the Go Topless movement — a national effort demanding that women deserve the same rights as men to bare their chests. The idea struck: Maybe topless women could hand out the newspaper until the rack got replaced. Parsley reached out, and local women agreed to the task. 

Says Koretzky: "I've dealt with FAU for 16 years now. I've learned to appeal to them. [When you negotiate with someone], you can appeal to their morality or their intellect, but I'm not sure FAU has either one of those things. Mostly what I've appealed to is their public embarrassment. It's childish, and I prefer not to do that way," but Parsley, he says, was being reasonable yet was ignored. "You can't negotiate with someone who won't talk to you," Koretzky says. "That's been my motto for dealing with FAU since 1998: negotiation through humiliation."  

In fact, Koretzky had largely been the subject of Parsley's January 18 article criticizing FAU. Late last year, the university had decided to convene a "journalism task force"  to oversee the student newspaper. Koretzky says, "I went to a meeting. They said, 'You're not allowed to be here. It's a closed meeting.'" He found it absurd — and possibly illegal — that the school was trying to keep private a meeting about improving journalism at a public institution. Rather than accommodate him, they disbanded the entire task force. 

Heather Coltman, arts and letters dean, and Corey King, student affairs vice president, reportedly wrote: “Due to the desire of some individuals to create unnecessary conflict that does not contribute to the progress of student journalism at FAU or aid in the progress of designing a better learning experience for students, we have decided to suspend the activities of the task force." 

Koretzky says it's just another example of the university being "tone deaf." In 2013, the university moved to name its football stadium after GEO Group, a private prison company, and seemed flustered, confused, and caught off-guard when students protested the maneuver. Then-President of FAU Mary Jane Saunders blundered by avoiding students and even hitting one of them with her car as she fled a small group of them. She ultimately resigned, though she took a professor role. Also that year, FAU Professor James Tracy spread the idea that the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012 had been faked by the government. He was kept on staff until being terminated weeks ago, only after a parent of one of the dead children published a letter in the Sun Sentinel — though the reason the school gave for his firing was that he failed to disclose outside activities.  

Says Parsley: "Their PR management is terrible and has been terrible for many years as well, which we all know, because they are the laughingstock of America."  

Koretzky says, "FAU fucks with us in ridiculous ways. No one is going to believe it takes 16 months to renovate a metal box. They've got to come up with better bullshit... No one would read the goddamn newspaper if they would just leave us alone. No one would pay attention." 

Parsley and Koretzky say they warned the school on Monday that topless women would be distributing papers today unless a solution was worked out. 

After that, Parsley says, the coordinator "called and said, 'I heard you were upset.'" She promised that two distribution points would be set up and ready in two to three weeks. 

That satisfied him... so, alas, there won't be any topless women passing out gay newspapers today. 

Lisa Metcalf, chief press officer for FAU, made the whole kerfuffle sound like a misunderstanding. She said in an email: 

The Breezeway that runs across the Boca campus is about to undergo remodeling and upgrading. In preparation for construction, a newspaper/magazine rack that was very old and in poor condition was removed (along with other outdated or aged items). All the publications that used the rack (SFGN was not the only publication) were notified by our Facilities department Jan. 5 that the racks would be trashed. The university only received a response from SFGN. The publication's editor, Jason Parsley, replied to ask when the project would be complete. When he learned the construction would take about 18 months, he asked if alternative locations were available.

Unfortunately, and through no fault of his own, Jason inadvertently contacted someone who was not a decision-maker, which delayed the outcome. When the correct person was contacted, FAU staff quickly identified two new locations — in the FAU Library and in the Student Union. Jason was informed that not only could he now display his publication in two locations when he previously had one, but that both the new locations likely enjoyed a higher volume of foot traffic than the old single Breezeway location. By Jan. 25, Jason indicated he was very satisfied with the outcome.

Lastly, it won’t take 18 months to renovate the magazine racks. The racks are in a dumpster. When the 18-month-long Breezeway renovation project is complete, new equipment will be installed. In the meantime, and in addition to the two new locations, if Jason has his own magazine racks, he is welcome to place them on campus in locations with which the appropriate staff agree.

On Facebook, some of the topless women-in-waiting sounded disappointed. "I have very mixed feelings about this," wrote one. 

Parsley conceded, "If they hadn't responded, it would have been a lot more interesting." 

Koretzy says it "kind of sucks" that the stunt won't happen. But given the years-long friction with the administration, he doubts this is the last squabble. And "as long as the weather's nice, you can always do topless distribution."  


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