Governors State University was sued by student journalists Margaret Hosty, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba in January 2001 after Dean Patricia Carter told the newspaper's printer in October 2000 to hold future issues until a school official had given approval to the student newspaper's contents. The paper, the Innovator, had published news stories and editorials critical of the administration. Carter's directive was issued despite a university policy that said the student newspaper staff "will determine content and format of their respective publications without censorship or advance approval."
In November 2001, a federal district court allowed the case to go forward against Dean Carter and in early 2002, the university appealed.
The case generated national attention in part because of the controversial argument made before the appeals court by the state attorney general in defending the school's right to censor the student newspaper. Illinois Attorney General James Ryan asked the appeals court to extend the Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood decision, which limited the First Amendment protections for high school students, to public college student expression.
In a friend-of-the court brief filed in the case, a coalition of media and First Amendment groups said "such restrictions have no place at a college or university" and that they were "gravely concerned" about the consequences if the court were to adopt the state's argument.
A three-judge panel of the court handed down a decision on April 10, 2003, that offered strong support for college press freedom. The court refused to grant Dean Carter qualified immunity, finding that Hazelwood was not the appropriate standard for censorship of college student media and pointing to the more than three decades of law providing strong First Amendment protection to the college student press.
A copy of this decision, Hosty v. Carter, 325 F.3d 945 (7th Cir. 2003), is available from the court's Web site in PDF format. However, this decision has now been vacated.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a petition on behalf of Patricia Carter for a rehearing en banc before the federal appeals court. On June 25, 2003, a majority of the active judges of the court granted that petition and vacated the three-judge panel's decision.
An 11-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Jan. 8, 2004, and handed down a decision on June 20, 2005, supporting the university.
Without defining the First Amendment rights college journalists are entitled to, the seven-judge majority of the court said that that the analysis used by the Supreme Court in the Hazelwood decision was applicable at the public college and university level.??The court said that a court confronted with an act of student newspaper censorship by a college official must first determine if the publication was a "designated public forum" where students had been given the authority to make the content decisions. The majority said that the fact a publication might be extracurricular was not determinative of its public forum status.
Second, the court held that even assuming that the Innovator was a public forum, the dean who censored the publication was entitled to qualified immunity from damages for infringing the students' rights because she could not have reasonably known that the limitations of the Hazelwood decision did not apply to college and university student publications.
A copy of that decision, Hosty v. Carter, 412 F.3d 731 (7th Cir. 2005) (en banc), is available from the court's Web site in PDF format.
The student journalists filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. Both sides and several amicus groups filed briefs in the case.
The Current Status:
On February 21, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal in the case.
Should You Care About This Case?
Many people and organizations that care about the college press do. Among the organizations that joined in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the students: the Student Press Law Center, the Associated Collegiate Press, College Media Advisers Inc., the College Newspaper Business and Advertising Managers, the Community College Journalism Association, the Society for Collegiate Journalists, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.
This case isn't just about newspaper censorship. Any school-sponsored student expressive activity (including student-selected speakers, films, theater and student government) could be subject to prior approval and censorship under analysis approved by the Seventh Circuit.
What Can You Do?
You can continue to make a difference. Here's how:
1) Ask your top school administrators to sign off on a statement
supporting student press freedom and give them heat if they aren't
willing to do so. What this statement should say can be as simple
[Name of school] recognizes and affirms the editorial independence and press freedom of all student-edited campus media. Student editors have the authority to make all content decisions free from censorship and advance approval and consequently they bear the responsibility for the decisions that they make.
(If you are in the Seventh Circuit states of Indiana, Illinois or Wisconsin, you will want to be sure to include language indicating that your student media are "designated public forums" as referenced by the decision in Hosty. See our Seventh Circuit Public Forum List page for details.
2) Keep the pressure on your school officials to express their support for student free expression in writing, and keep your readers informed about the progress of your effort. Start a campus petition or a blue-ribbon campaign (in support of free expression) and create a regular feature for your publication about the status of free expression protections on your campus.
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