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University of Minnesota ruling plows new legal ground -- straight across the First Amendment

(06/24/12 3:21pm)

There's a pivotal scene in the first theatrical "X-Files" film where David Duchovny's Agent Fox Mulder, idling at a crossroads as he ponders which way to turn in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, instinctively stomps the pedal and barrels straight ahead across unpaved prairie. Plowing your own road is a thrilling move -- for a fictional hero in a sci-fi thriller.

Amanda Tatro, who fought free speech battle against the University of Minnesota, dead at 31

(06/26/12 12:40pm)

Amanda Tatro, who less than a week ago lost a high-profile First Amendment case in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, was found dead in her apartment Tuesday morning, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed. She was 31. A friend of Tatro’s told a City Pages blog that her husband had found her lying on the couch unresponsive when he woke up Tuesday morning.

Report: Free speech awareness rises in 2012, support for off-campus speech rights about the same

(07/17/12 5:35pm)

Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe that public schools should not be able to punish students for posting “offensive” content on social media, according to the latest installment of the First Amendment Center’s State of the First Amendment report. The 2012 report was released Tuesday, and while some of its findings continue to paint a grim picture for appreciation and knowledge of the First Amendment — 27 percent of Americans were unable to name any of its five freedoms, fairly consistent with last year’s results — a few responses are more optimistic for the future of the First Amendment inside and outside the schoolhouse gates. Just 13 percent of respondents believed the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, the lowest total in the past decade. National awareness of freedom of speech as a First Amendment-protected right jumped from previous years; 65 percent of those responding were able to volunteer "speech" as a protected right.

N.J. court: Schools can't withhold extracurriculars to play "good behavior police" for off-campus misconduct

(07/26/12 6:21pm)

When schools seek to punish students' off-campus behavior on blogs and social networking sites, their "penalty of choice" often is revoking students' eligibility for sports, honor societies and other extracurricular activities. That's because judges generally have given schools almost unlimited latitude to decide who may take part in after-school clubs that aren't considered central to the free public education to which every student is legally entitled. But a new ruling from a New Jersey appellate court torpedoes that distinction, and calls into question schools' widespread practice of withholding extracurricular activities to punish uncivil speech on the Web. In G.D.M.

Amid breastfeeding professor controversy, American University discusses role of student media

(09/28/12 4:38pm)

The role of student media came under fire after American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, interviewed an associate professor about breastfeeding in class. The story generated national attention before the paper ever even wrote about it, and Thursday, media and school representatives gathered to talk about the role of student journalism and their rights, as well as what qualifies as news. “Journalists serve the public interest, but that is not the same as what the public is interested in,” said John Watson, an American University associate professor who was one of the panelists on the forum held at the campus. The panel consisted of Watson, Director of Media and Interactive Journalism Amy Eisman, Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, Associated Press Reporter Brett Zongker and was lead by Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the School of Communication Rose Ann Robertson. The Eagle was unfairly criticized as a third-rate, sexist, anti-woman publication targeting faculty, hounding sources and asking biased and sophomoric questions, Robertson said. “They do make mistakes because they have the unfortunate liability of relying on human beings but it’s a very good paper,” Watson said. One of the functions of a news media is to put controversial issues on the public agenda, Watson said.

How college newspapers covered the annual Clery campus safety report

(10/03/12 6:37pm)

Most college students understand the level of safety on their campus, but sometimes they can get a little too comfortable. A much needed reminder of campus safety comes this week, as this past Monday was the deadline for colleges to release their annual crime report, as required by the Jeanne Clery Act. All colleges that except federal money, which includes almost all public and private colleges that accept federal financial aid, are required to release this report that chronicles the last three years’ worth of serious crime by category. The act is named after a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her dorm room.

When justice delayed really is justice denied: Vindication that comes too late for Amanda Tatro

(11/02/12 9:21pm)

The judicial ruling that would have changed everything for Amanda Tatro came just five months too late. Tatro, 31, was found dead in her apartment June 26, less than a week after the Minnesota Supreme Court threw out her First Amendment challenge to disciplinary sanctions imposed for some misunderstood jokes she posted on Facebook. Her college, the University of Minnesota, insisted that it could punish students' speech on social-networking pages -- even if the speech was created off campus on personal time -- and the Minnesota court agreed. The court fashioned a new legal standard that, for the first time, enables colleges (in Minnesota, at least) to discipline students for speech, even on personal time, that violates the "established professional conduct standards" of their chosen course of study.

Christian university president defends student newspaper's right to publish Obama endorsement

(11/05/12 5:22pm)

We write a lot about principals and college administrators who don't seem to appreciate the value of a free and vigorous student press, so it's nice to write about one who does — Abilene Christian University President Phil Schubert. Last week, the editorial board of the school's student newspaper, The Optimist, endorsed President Barack Obama for a second term. The endorsement sparked debate on the newspaper's website, where some wondered whether the endorsement was at odds with the school's Christian mission. Sunday in the Abilene Reporter-News, Schubert publicly defended the paper's right to publish its endorsement: Abilene Christian University does not endorse political candidates or parties, so some people reacted with surprise when our student newspaper, the Optimist, recently endorsed a presidential candidate. That provides a great opportunity for me to explain what ACU does endorse: making sure our students receive an education that prepares them to make real choices and engage in independent thought about important issues. ... It would be easy to shy away from diverse opinions about difficult subjects, but in so doing, we would remove from our students the opportunity to practice — in a safe environment — for the challenges and experiences that will shape them into these kind of people. Well said.

New Jersey bill protects college students' social media passwords, usernames

(11/07/12 11:44am)

A bill awaiting the governor's approval in New Jersey would make it illegal for colleges and universities to require students or applicants' social media user names or passwords. The bill prohibits both private and public colleges or universities from asking for social media passwords or usernames.

College administrator who wanted student newspaper to pay him for interviews is out

(11/13/12 5:30pm)

A Texas college administrator who last year wanted reporters at a San Antonio College's student newspaper to pay him in exchange for interviews is no longer is employed. The relationship between former student life director Jorge Posadas and The Ranger has long been rocky.

#Freetotweet? Across much of America, students' online freedoms are under assault.

(12/01/12 3:14pm)

Two events serendipitously collided today in the world of free speech: (1) The First Amendment advocacy organization, 1forAll, launched its Twitter campaign, #freetotweet, offering a $5,000 scholarship prize rewarding young people for creative and inspiring posts about free expression. (2) In North Carolina, it became less free for young people to tweet than ever before. The ability to use the Web to speak without fear of government reprisal is, in many corners of America, a distant and fading promise. There is no freedom to tweet in Indiana, where a high school senior was expelled -- expelled! -- for a junior-grade George Carlin joke on his personal Twitter account that riffed on the versatility of profanity. There is no freedom to tweet in Minnesota, where -- thanks to the University of Minnesota's recent victory in a state Supreme Court case -- you can be kicked out of college for making jokes online that, in the college's view, indicate unfitness for your chosen profession. There is no freedom to tweet in Illinois, where at least 10 students were suspended for involvement in an off-campus Twitter post calling a teacher sexy -- one for writing the post, others for "retweeting" it, and others for protesting the original discipline.

Oklahoma State's FERPA fig leaf just got a lot smaller

(12/21/12 11:10am)

There's nowhere left for Oklahoma State University to hide. The man in charge of interpreting the federal student privacy law for more than two decades, LeRoy Rooker, told the Tulsa World in an interview this week that Oklahoma State was under no legal requirement to withhold information about campus sexual assaults from the police. Rooker's interpretation flatly contradicts Oklahoma State legal counsel Gary Clark's insistence that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") forbade the university from alerting campus police about a string of reported sex crimes by a 22-year-old OSU senior. The student, Nathan Cochran, was charged Dec.