Coalition warns of whittling away at First Amendment on campus





Warning of a “profound threat” to university journalists and educators, a coalition led by the Student Press Law Center that includes every major national organization of college journalists and journalism educators as well as the schools, faculty or department heads from every accredited college journalism program in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are preparing to file a friend of the court brief before the federal U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit , urging it to reverse the federal district court1s decision in Kincaid v. Gibson applying a high school censorship standard to college student media.

Such a standard, the coalition cautioned, is “antithetical to the freedom of expression long recognized to be the essence of the university campus.”

“The shield of the First Amendment is at best a sieve when a school censoring decision can be justified simply by branding it a ‘legitimate pedagogical concern,’” the coalition said, referring to the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, relied on by the district court. The Hazelwood decision specifically refused to apply the ruling to college student expression. For over three decades, student journalists at public colleges and universities have enjoyed legal protections similar to those afforded the commercial news media. Courts have said that college administrators are allowed to censor student media only when they can demonstrate that some significant and imminent physical disruption of the campus will result from the publication’s content.

Unfortunately, student speech has not been the only target of censors. The coalition refers to a growing number of courts that have relied on the Hazelwood decision to curtail the academic freedom rights of high school teachers to speak in their classrooms. Were Hazelwood extended to colleges and universities, the coalition warns, the results could be devastating.

“The censorship of curricula and the impingement of academic freedom that Hazelwood arguably could permit would cause irreversible damage to the venerable place occupied by academic institutions as the marketplace of ideas,” the coalition cautioned. The coalition’s brief is one of several that is expected to be filed with the court of appeals.

Coalition Participants

Associated Collegiate Press Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication College Media Advisers Inc. Community College Journalism Association Kentucky Intercollegiate Press Association Society for Collegiate Journalists Southwestern Journalism Congress Student Press Law Center Texas Intercollegiate Press Association Texas Community College Press Association Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, Murray State University School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky Department of Journalism, Western Kentucky University Faculty, Department of Journalism, Central Michigan University* School of Journalism, Michigan State University Department of Journalism, Bowling Green State University Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University Faculty, School of Journalism and Communication, Ohio State University* Jack Mooney, Division of Journalism, East Tennessee State University* School of Journalism, Middle Tennessee State University Dan Lattimore, Chair, Department of Journalism, University of Memphis Dwight Teeter, Dean, College of Communications, University of Tennessee* Communication Department, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Communications, University of Tennessee at Martin

  • Organization listed for purpose of identification only.


reports, Spring 1998