Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Thursday, March 11, 2004
 
Student Press Freedom & Discretion

Thisstory about a Long Island University student paper that published the bad grades of the resigning Student body president raises a number of interesting issues. Back home in Berkeley, I think the editors of the Daily Cal would laugh at the notion of having a faculty advisor--or the notion that the University had any relationship other than landlord to its offices in Eshelman Hall. The Daily Cal declared independence from the University in 1971, after the University attempted to fire three senior editors for daring to write an editorial supportive of student plans to reclaim people's park. While it may have had a motley record since then, I think the ideal of full fiscal independence from the university you're covering is pretty good.

But don't students enjoy the full protection of the first amendment? I must say I'm not quite sure, and am suspicious of my first gut reaction--"of course!"--in case it reflects my own super liberal education. At my college preparatory high school, when I restarted the "newspaper" (it ended up being more of a literary zine) I remember that the faculty advisor, the impassioned Carl Fredricksen, put essay after essay on the necessity on student free speech in my box, with FIRST AMENDMENT! scrawled across the top in his strident handwriting. Considering some of the things I ended up publishing (shudder), I can emphatically say that censored I was not.

According to the Student Press Law Center's FAQ on high school press:

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision, gave public high school officials greater authority to censor some school-sponsored student publications if they chose to do so. But the ruling doesn't apply to publications that have been opened as "public forums for student expression." It also requires school officials to demonstrate some reasonable educational justification before they can censor anything. In addition, some states (currently Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts) have passed laws that give students much stronger free expression protection than Hazelwood. Other states are considering such laws.

From their FAQ on college press:

Q: But if school officials or student governments fund a student publication, radio or television station, can't they censor it like any other publisher or owner could?
A: Not at a public school. The courts have ruled that if a school creates a student news or information medium and allows students to serve as editors, the First Amendment drastically limits the school's ability to censor. Among the censoring actions the courts have prohibited are confiscating copies of publications, requiring prior review, removing objectional material, limiting circulation, suspending editors and withdrawing or reducing financial support.


That's a little less clear. If a public university is the publisher, I'm guessing they cannot prevent one issue from going out, but they can decide they don't like the editor and they no longer want him "working for them." The problem with this case is that it's pretty icky--should they decide such a thing? On one hand, it can be seen as censorship. On the other hand, were they just a real publisher, and not a university, I might agree with them. Needlessly publishing a student's bad grades seems to be in the poorest of taste. Just because there's no law against doesn't mean you should.

And for that matter, I wish CNN hadn't reprinted the offending quote. I certainly hope my college grades never make it into print.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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