The time for a student movement to protect the First Amendment is now.
A fight to preserve student press rights awaits many college newspapers, and the repercussions of a recent court case could reach much further than simply the press.
The rights of every college student could be at risk as the United States Supreme Court debates whether it will hear Hosty v. Carter – a case that has left college newspaper advisers, experts and journalists confused of their rights and apprehensive of the future.
In the fall of 2000, Governor State University Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Carter told the student newspaper, the Innovator, it could not print until she had seen the content and given her permission.
Claiming their First Amendment rights had been violated, Innovator managing editor Margaret Hosty and other staff members sued Carter and the school.
At first, they won.
But in June 2003, the Seventh Circuit Court, having jurisdiction in Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois, reheard the case and ruled for Carter.
The decision applied Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, a 1988 case that limited high school students’ freedom of expression, to colleges and universities.
Since 1967, the courts have almost unanimously agreed that the First Amendment prevents college administrators from censoring college newspapers at public schools.
Hosty has changed everything.
The Hazelwood standard states that a court facing a censorship case must first determine whether or not the publication in question is a “public forum.”
If it is, the newspaper is protected and cannot be censored. In Governor State’s case, the Innovator was found to not be a public forum.
The court typically determines public forum status by examining two things: policy and practice. Policy refers to the university’s written, or agreed upon, guidelines with the student newspaper. Practice refers to the day-to-day operations. Have the students typically been given the power to make editorial decisions, or do administrators and the adviser consistently regulate the content?
The Mustang Daily declares that it is a public forum.
Hosty has opened the floodgates to dispute.
At Kansas State University, Marquette University and Vincennes University, the student advisers were fired or transferred over content-based arguments with the administrations.
Tri-State University in Indiana recently retracted a policy that barred students and employees from talking with student journalists without the school’s marketing department permission.
Universities are using the Hosty case as an excuse to censor.
And in June, the CSU system stuck its nose in the fray.
In a CSU memorandum from the Office of General Counsel sent to the CSU presidents, “student newspaper censorship” was addressed.
“While the Hosty decision is from another jurisdiction and, as such, does not directly impact the CSU, the case appears to signal that CSU campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers . . .” the memo said.
Starting today, the Mustang Daily will run a daily notice in the Op/Ed section declaring itself a “public forum” where student editors have full authority to make all content decisions without censorship or advance approval.
We are not the only targets. The Hosty case can be applied to any school-sponsored student expressive activity. That includes student-selected speakers, films, theater and government.
The worst part of it is that public forum status is generally determined by administrators themselves.
Cal Poly strongly promotes the “learn by doing” philosophy. Editors and reporters have relied on the hands-off approach to do such.
Our mission is to serve as the voice of Cal Poly. In doing so, we consider stories from every angle and perspective. As student editors, we are the gatekeepers of information. That is, we have complete control over the content in the Mustang Daily. Students brainstorm story ideas, write and edit articles and lay out each page of the newspaper every day.
These positions provide us with a tremendous amount of responsibility. We do not take our jobs lightly. We operate under the First Amendment as a professional, student-run newspaper.
The Mustang Daily is a public forum. It is a medium where student views are expressed without censorship.
Following the Hosty ruling, organizations such as the Student Press Law Center, Society of Professional Journalists, Associated Collegiate Press, American Society of Newspaper Editors and the College Media Advisors are mobilizing to fight for students’ First Amendment rights.
Join them and the Mustang Daily in the fight.