Ill. governor approves college press protections

Law declares all student media at state colleges to be public forums

ILLINOIS -- A new set of protections for student media at state colleges will take effect in June after gaining final approval from Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Friday.

The College Campus Press Act, passed by the state legislature in June and signed by Blagojevich Aug. 31, declares any student media outlet at a public college to be "a public forum for expression by the student journalists and editors." The law also prohibits school officials from exercising prior review, regardless of whether the publication is sponsored by the school.

Illinois Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) introduced the bill in early February -- with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union -- in response to a 2005 ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision, in Hosty v. Carter, said college-sponsored student publications that are not designated as public forums can be controlled by school administrators in the same way high school officials can control student media on their campuses.

The new law, by making all student publications at public colleges "public forums," effectively nullifies the Hosty ruling in Illinois for student media. The decision remains in force in Indiana and Wisconsin, the other two states that make up the 7th Circuit.

The Illinois law makes student reporters and editors responsible for all content decisions -- including decisions about advertising -- and gives state schools immunity from being sued over material printed in campus media. It also protects media advisers from being "terminated, transferred, removed, otherwise disciplined, or retaliated against for refusing to suppress protected free expression rights of collegiate student journalists and of collegiate student editors."

Administrators may punish student journalists only for material that constitutes "harassment, threats, or intimidation, unless constitutionally protected, or for speech that is not constitutionally protected, including obscenity or incitement."

CORRECTION, Dec. 7: The initial version of this story misstated when the College Campus Press Act will take effect. The SPLC regrets the error.

College Campus Press Act, Public Act 095-0580 (2007)
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