Editor fights punishment for content decision


University hands down disciplinary probation in dispute over letters





GEORGIA -- A student newspaper editor at the Georgia State University has vowed to fight sanctions imposed on him by the administration for choosing not to run certain letters to the editor.

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\n Brad Pilcher, former opinion section editor, and Stephen Ericson, former editor in chief of The Signal, Georgia State's student newspaper, were each given disciplinary probation for violating the ''orderly climate'' and ''freedom of expression'' sections of the code of conduct.

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\n Under the terms of their probation, they are prohibited from holding an office or taking an active role in any campus organization for six months.

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\n The punishments came after several Muslim students and Georgia State's Muslim Student Association filed a complaint with the dean of students' office, claiming that the editors discriminated against Muslim, Arab and pro-Palestinian points of view by refusing to print three letters to the editor supporting the Palestinian perspective in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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\n Pilcher said The Signal did not publish the letters because of space constraints and because they did not meet the paper's stated length and style requirements.

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\n The original complaint also alleged that Ericson, one of the paper's reporters and The Signal itself were responsible for what was described as biased coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the newspaper. School administrators later rejected that claim, which named as evidence a decision not to print an article examining the conflict. Pilcher said the article did not run because the reporter assigned to the story was having difficulty representing both sides equally.

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\n Disciplinary probation is far less severe than the punishment first handed down by the university's judicial affairs officer and came as the result of an appeal to the school's vice president of student services.

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\n The sanctions ordered by the judicial affairs officer required the editors to run the letters to the editor in their original forms, formally apologize to the Muslim students and attend a diversity training workshop.

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\n Although Pilcher said he was pleased the sanctions had been reduced, he was adamant that any punishment levied against members of the paper's staff for editorial decisions they had made would jeopardize the First Amendment freedom of future Signal editors.

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\n ''Now it's not even about me,'' he said. ''It's more about setting a precedent. If we don't fight this precedent of controlling editorial decisions, it's just going to be more difficult in the future.''

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\n The sanctions, which will only affect Pilcher because Ericson has graduated, will not take effect until an appeal to the president of the university is decided. Pilcher said in July that he had not yet heard back from the university president, even though he had filed the appeal more than a month earlier.

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\n But Pilcher added that he would appeal an unfavorable decision from the university president to the university's board of regents, and promised to bring his fight against administrative control over editorial decisions to the highest possible authority.

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\n ''That's just unacceptable,'' he said. ''It's strictly an attempt by the administration to appease one group or the other and keep the whole thing quiet. But it's having the opposite effect--we are not going to keep this quiet.''


Fall 2001, reports