On Edge


Campuses reflect on the Governors State newspaper censorship case, debate impact court ruling could if Hazelwood is applied to colleges





The face of collegiate free speech could change in 2003.

\n

\nThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago will determine if the free expression rights of college students are in fact greater than those of students in high school. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments Jan. 7 in what could be one of the most important college press freedom cases in decades. The court's decision could apply the Supreme Court standard in Hazelwood v. Kulhmeier that grants high school officials greater authority to censor and preview content in student publications and any other forms of student expression.

\n

\nIn the meantime, student journalists, their classmates and professors at colleges and universities in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the three states affected by the court's decision, remain divided on whether the possible decision would hurt their free-speech rights.

\n

\nThe case before the federal court, Hosty v. Carter, involves administrative censorship of the student newspaper at Governors State University in Illinois. In 2001, Dean Patricia Carter ordered the printers of the student newspaper, The Innovator, to refrain from publishing future editions without first obtaining a school official's approval of its content.

\n

\nThe Innovator editor Jeni Porche, managing editor Margaret Hosty and reporter Steven Barba sued the university, alleging school official's actions constituted a prior restraint in violation of their First Amendment rights.

\n

\nIn a brief filed on behalf of Governors State, the Illinois Attorney General argued that The Innovator is government property and has never been open to free expression by its student editors. The state said the Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood decision should allow college officials to censor.

\n

\nIf the three-judge appellate panel agrees with the state's argument, school officials could demand prior approval of all student speech, ranging from newspapers to film screenings and speeches if those activities receive any type of school funding.

\n

\nUniversity of Wisconsin-Stout student journalists have felt what administrators can do with such regulations, said Nick Coenen, editor in chief of the student-run newspaper, Stoutonia.

\n

\nLast year, the Stoutonia published articles about a student who was wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a series of pipe bombings throughout the country. Administrators attempted to step in and review all future stories, but the paper's editors put up a fight and administrators backed down. Coenen said that even if the ruling favors the administrators, Stoutonia staff members would still try to fend off censorship.

\n

\n''We would definitely take it a step further if the administration tried to step in,'' Coenen said.

\n

\nJournalists at the Daily Vidette, the student--run newspaper at Illinois State University, are keeping their readers informed of the case with coverage of the story.

\n

\n''We are definitely staying current on [the case],'' said Erick Bieritz, editor in chief. ''We have an administration that's not at an adversarial stance with us, but it's a big concern as it develops.''

\n

\nBieritz said the university recently rejected a free-speech policy that wiped out any attempt to control speech or expression on campus. As long as the Daily Vidette is ''journalistically responsible,'' Bieritz said he could not picture the administration attempting to censor any content.

\n

\nOther college students, who have not experienced difficulties with administrators, say they feel no harm would come to their campus from the case.

\n

\nJournalists at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls say they have had no difficulty with administrators and do not believe there is any potential for future problems.

\n

\n''We haven't had any problems here in the three years that I've been here,'' said Scott Wente, editor in chief of The Student Voice. ''The administration has been very supportive and sees the role we have on campus and does nothing to interfere.''

\n

\nWente said he believes the newspaper's source of funding would keep administrators at bay over attempts to censor.

\n

\n''Here [the newspaper's outside support is] all student fees


The SPLC recently launched a Web page with up-to-date information on the Hosty v. Carter case. Be sure you check out the page for coverage and the latest news. The page features a history of the case, including links to the Illinois attorney general


reports, Winter 2002-03