The editor-in-chief of The O’Colly at Oklahoma State University was forced to resign after the newspaper staff took issue with her anti-mask mandate opinion column, according to a tip received through Young America’s Foundation’s Campus Bias Tipline.
After being forced to leave her classroom for refusing to wear a mask, Maddison Farris wrote a column in The O’Colly detailing the event and expressing her opposition to forced masking on campus.
“But it is more than a mask. It’s control. It’s control over my choices, desires, and body. I will not allow any institution to take away my right to decide for myself what is best and to make my own decisions, or to take away the rights and decisions of others,” her September 9 column titled “Enough is Enough” read.
On September 11, the rest of the editorial board, excluding Farris, issued a “correction.” They condemned the column, stressing “…it is not something representing the thoughts and opinions of The O’Colly Media Group.” Columns in The O’Colly are opinion articles, and don’t require extra distinction.
They went on to add that “As American citizens, we affirm our belief in the First Amendment and the right as journalists to express our personal opinions no matter if our viewpoint is different from those around us.”
In stark contrast to their proclaimed support of the First Amendment, the editorial staff ousted Farris shortly after publishing the “correction,” demanding her resignation.
In her resignation letter, Farris said “Originally, I requested a letter of termination, but seeing as how I have already been fired in every way except verbal or written, I would like to submit this letter as a product of forced resignation.”
“I regret that this was the outcome of exercising my First Amendment rights, but even more so, I regret that I have been robbed of the opportunity to learn from my errors and that productive discussion was unable to take place.”
Farris told Young America’s Foundation she was “disappointed” with the decision.
“[The O’Colly] was advertised as an accepting environment, a safe environment, a learning environment, and the events of the past few weeks have just proven how toxic it is and how not free the speech is on this campus,” she said.
Farris also told YAF that other members of The O’Colly expressed their discomfort with the political subject matter and concern for working for a “conservative” paper.
According to her, she had received edits on her column by The O’Colly‘s faculty advisor, John Helsley, prior to publication. She was also never given an opportunity to discuss or correct any perceived inaccuracies by the rest of the editorial board.
Helsley, however, told YAF “I did not edit her column. She asked me to look at a small section, which she had a question about. And I did.”
After Farris left the paper, they published a letter to the editor, calling her out by name. A 1995 alumnus took the opportunity to belittle the former editor.
“…please stop thinking of yourself and consider others a little more,” the letter to the editor read.
He further criticized her abilities as an editor and implied she had shirked her moral responsibilities.
“’It’s my right…’ is rarely the best place to begin when deciding upon actions or inactions,” he wrote.
Days later, the letter to the editor was mysteriously removed from The O’Colly website.
YAF reached out to the editor-in-chief of The O’Colly, but they declined to comment.
Faculty advisor of The O’Colly, John Helsley, told YAF, the paper “…encourages diversity of thought, opinion and conversation. It is vital to what we do. Neither opinion, nor the right to an opinion, were at the heart of what ultimately resulted in Ms. Farris’ resignation (‘forced resignation’ is her term.)”
“There were other issues at play, which contributed to her editorial staff – all personally interviewed and selected by Ms. Farris – concluding that the working relationship was untenable for them,” he continued.
When pressed on these “other issues at play,” he refused to elaborate, saying “That’s between the staff and Ms. Farris.”
The future of journalism is worth worrying for if editorial boards are so terrified of different opinions that they must “correct” them in sweeping condemnations and forced resignations. It’s understandable to disagree with an opinion, however, stifling speech that challenges authority and displays a controversial viewpoint is unacceptable.
This situation isn’t the first or last time that conservatives will be punished for their opinions. In 2020, YAF reported that The Badger-Herald at University of Wisconsin-Madison denied a student’s op-ed opposing the defund the police movement because it “would cause a lot of backlash.”
YAF values the students who are brave enough to stand by their opinions despite the unjust consequences, and continues to work hard to ensure the free speech and freedom of expression of all of its students.