Advisers get tips on protecting college press liberty

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Keeping up with current First Amendment issues is
essential for those advising college media — especially in light of recent court

The Supreme Court’s refusal earlier this year not to consider a lower court’s
ruling in the case of Hosty
v. Carter
could have a major effect on college media, Student Press Law Center Executive Director Mark
Goodman told 16 participants at the 2006 College Media Advisers First Amendment

“I believe [the decision] opens the door to an incredible amount of
censorship in college publications,” Goodman said.

College press advisers from across the country gathered to listen to Goodman
and other presenters at the annual conference co-sponsored by the College Media Advisers and the First
Amendment Center, which hosted the event June 6-8.

Goodman told the advisers that the Supreme Court’s decision not to consider
Hosty meant the June 2005 ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
stands. In Hosty, the 7th Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s 1988
School District v. Kuhlmeier
decision, which dealt with high school
newspapers, also applied to subsidized student publications at public colleges
and universities.

In Hazelwood, the Court ruled that school administrators may censor
student publications only if the publication is not designated as a “public
forum” where students have the authority to make content decisions. Because
Hosty expands Hazelwood to public colleges and universities,
Goodman said, the decision could give administrators an opportunity to censor
student publications in the 7th Circuit’s jurisdiction, which includes Indiana,
Illinois and Wisconsin.

Goodman urged college media advisers from those states to get a written
policy signed by their school’s administration that designates student news
organizations as “public forums” and declares that students have the authority
to make content decisions without receiving advance approval.

A written policy “is the strongest legal protection,” Goodman said. “Now is
the time for administrators to be embarrassed by their lack of commitment to
student press freedom.”

Although Hosty does not affect other states, Goodman suggested that college
media advisers from all over the country should ask their school administrations
to sign a statement affirming the editorial independence of their student

Goodman said getting a policy implemented on campus could also help teach
students about free expression. Focusing on college press freedom helps students
“intellectually think through the First Amendment and why it is their right,” he

In addition to Goodman’s presentation, the conference featured discussion
topics ranging from the historical background of the First Amendment to how
increasing newsroom diversity can strengthen First Amendment expression on

Robbie Morganfield, executive director of the Freedom Forum’s Diversity
told the advisers that college media was not the diverse melting pot
it should be. A journalist’s background contributes to how he or she frames an
image or tells a story, he said, and that in college media the lack of diversity
in the newsroom often leads to the same images and stories being repeated.

“We miss the opportunities that universal stories present,” Morganfield said.
“We need to start getting younger people thinking beyond their own

Morganfield suggested that one way of increasing the diversity in student
media would be to include business-management training in the curriculum. Such
training could lead to students' gaining better people skills, he said, which in
turn would lead to a higher awareness of the need for diversity and improve the
quality of newspapers.

“We should help younger people understand the role the media plays in the
process of affecting and changing the world,” Morganfield said.

Conference participants also exchanged ideas on how to promote the First
Amendment on their campuses while also getting students involved in the

“Universities ought to be a place where the freest thinking goes on in
society,” First Amendment Center Executive Director Gene Policinski told the
advisers. “Our goal is for you to effectively advocate for the First Amendment
on your campus.”

In addition, the First Amendment Institute gave each adviser a toolkit of
suggestions and tips on how to implement a First Amendment event at their
college or university.

“I hope you will take what you learned here and insert yourselves on the
issues on your campus,” Policinski said. “It is an opportunity college media
advisers are able to fill.”

Beth Chesterman is a third-year law student at the University of Iowa
College of Law in Iowa City.

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