LoMonte named director of UF's Brechner Center, SPLC launches search for successor

From The SPLC Attorney Frank D. LoMonte, who has led the Student Press Law Center since January 2008, is leaving the SPLC effective July 31 to join the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, where he will head the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information as a Professor of Journalism.

LoMonte will succeed Sandra L. Chance as director of the Brechner Center, which since its founding in 1986 has served as a source of research, advocacy and public assistance, with a particular focus on open-government laws in Florida. UF journalism dean Diane McFarlin said the Center, under LoMonte’s direction, will have a broader mission incorporating the full range of media-law issues nationally affecting how news is gathered and distributed, including issues raised by evolving technologies.

During LoMonte’s nine-year tenure at the SPLC, major new programming initiatives included:

  • Organizing the “Tinker Tour,” a nationwide First Amendment awareness tour featuring civil-liberties icon Mary Beth Tinker, which during the 2013-14 school year reached more than 200,000 people across 31 states.
  • Leading the charge to enact reform legislation protecting students and educators against institutional retaliation for their journalistic work. The “New Voices” movement has resulted in enactment of fortified legal protections in Illinois, Maryland and North Dakota, with bills pending in 11 states, and has left behind student-led grassroots organizations in each state to keep watch over abuses of journalists’ rights.
  • Launching the Active Voice project to raise awareness of the impact of school censorship on leadership development opportunities for young women, and creating a paid fellowship program for college undergraduates across the country to design replicable “press freedom service projects” amplifying the voices of young women in their communities.
  • Harnessing the SPLC’s journalistic talent to create original investigative reporting focusing on issues of school and college transparency, including the 2014 “Campus Insecurity” series published in The Columbus Dispatch that captured top national honors from the Society of Professional Journalists and the AP Managing Editors.

“I’m excited and inspired by Dean McFarlin’s vision that the Brechner Center can serve as the nation’s preeminent source of scholarship identifying the barriers that inhibit journalism, mapping the way toward solutions, and bringing together the stakeholders who can make change,” LoMonte said. “I see this move as a continuation of the leadership role that the SPLC has taken in creating the New Voices campaign to reform state laws to protect student journalists, a movement that’s been nationally recognized as a model for how to advance the rights of journalists even in challenging times. I plan to bring that same approach to my work at Brechner, and to continue being the #1 cheerleader for New Voices and all of the SPLC’s initiatives.”

LoMonte said the move comes at an opportune time for the SPLC because of its especially strong and engaged Board leadership, increasing financial stability, and carefully considered five-year Strategic Plan, all of which will optimally position the new Executive Director to succeed.

Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Forward and chair of the SPLC’s Board of Directors, said a nationwide search for a replacement is already underway and the Center is confident of having a highly qualified leader in place by Aug. 1 to ensure a seamless transition. Eisner said the Center is fortunate to have a deeply talented staff, including longtime staff attorney Mike Hiestand, to continue providing responsive service to the thousands of students and educators who depend on the SPLC as their “general counsel’s office.”

“It's hard to imagine the SPLC without Frank — except that he's leaving the organization as strong and as relevant as it's ever been,” Eisner said. “Protecting the rights of journalists in high school and college is a driving passion for all of us, and I am thrilled that Frank will remain involved with SPLC from his new position at the Brechner Center. I know that the First Amendment will continue to have a smart, analytical, and tireless champion in Florida and beyond.”

LoMonte said working with the SPLC’s board, staff, volunteers and constituents has been “the most fulfilling professional experience of a lifetime,” and noted that the SPLC has been through many evolutions in structure and leadership during its 43-year history, but has always remained strong, vibrant and relevant.

“The culture of the SPLC is unique among legal-services and press-freedom organizations, because no one needing help is ever turned away. We don’t cherry-pick our cases and we don’t brag about our victories. We almost always do our work quietly and behind-the-scenes, because that’s safest for the teachers and students whose safety is our only concern,” LoMonte said. “The integrity of that culture is what differentiates the Student Press Law Center from all other civil-liberties and press-freedom organizations. That integrity is what our supporters value, and that will endure no matter who puts on the cape next.”

“Of everything we’ve accomplished during these nine years – laws passed, court cases won – I’m most proud of the difference we’ve made in the lives of thousands of teachers and students who’ve called for help when they felt like nobody else was on their side,” he said. “I’ll remember the transgender student in Louisiana whose high school was going to exclude him from the yearbook for being ‘too controversial.’ I’ll remember the teacher in Missouri who came within hours of being fired because his students challenged their college’s deceptive crime reporting. I’ll remember that the SPLC turned those situations around, and hundreds more like them, giving hope to people when things seemed most hopeless. And I’ll remember the genuine gratitude that people always went out of their way to show. Just the other day, a teacher stopped me at a workshop in New York and said, ‘You’ve saved my job at least three times.’ As a public-interest lawyer, you can’t ask for any greater reward than that.”

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering important issues free from censorship. More information is online at: www.splc.org