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Mizzou changes course, opts not to pursue discipline of editors behind April Fools' edition

April 12, 2012

MISSOURI — The University of Missouri abandoned its student conduct investigation Thursday of two former student newspaper editors who recently resigned over a controversial April Fools' edition of The Maneater.

MU staff attorney Kate Markie said the university is recalling its previous letters summoning Abby Spudich, former managing editor, and Travis Cornejo, former editor in chief, to a preliminary meeting. Markie said the students were being notified via new letters sent Thursday afternoon, but declined to comment further.

Spudich and Cornejo resigned Tuesday and Wednesday respectively after backlash from students, faculty and staff over the issue — called The Carpeteater — which was intended to be humorous.

“I’m relieved that I can move past that chapter of this whole April Fools’ ordeal,” Cornejo said. “I can focus on resolving all the other matters regarding the April Fools’ issue.”

Cornejo is graduating in December. He had not yet received the letter, but said he was worried the controversy would follow him into the future.

“Any time you receive an official notice from the university, of course you take it seriously,” he said. “Of course I had concerns about the possible outcomes.”

Marsha Fischer, Spudich’s attorney, said the general counsel’s office advised her earlier in the day that the university was withdrawing the summons.

“I’m pleased that we can get this situation over this,” Fischer said, adding that she did not think Spudich would require her assistance any further.

Earlier Thursday, Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, sent a letter calling on MU to rethink its decision to pursue punishment.

“While undoubtedly offensive to some readers,” LoMonte wrote, “the content of the parody newspaper indisputably was within the boundaries of the First Amendment.”

LoMonte explained that under the standard set by Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, universities can only censor student journalists based on content in very rare situations, such as if content incites unlawful activity.

“Nothing in The Maneater parody edition even remotely approaches the Tinker

threshold,” LoMonte wrote. “Accordingly, punishment of the speech will not withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Spudich oversaw production of the issue, with Cornejo taking a backseat, as is tradition regarding the April Fool’s edition of the paper. The new editorial board wrote in a statement of apology that the paper was originally to be called The Humaneater, but was changed somewhere along the way.

The Maneater has already canceled plans for the 2013 April Fools’ edition.

By Nick Glunt, SPLC staff writer

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© 2012 Student Press Law Center

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