Spring 2004

Thirty years later, SPLC still working to help

This fall, the Student Press Law Center will celebrate its 30th anniversary. For those not familiar with the SPLC's origins, the story of how an organization devoted to defending the student media and educating young journalists about their free-press and freedom-of-information rights came into existence and continues to serve after three decades is an interesting one. The beginning of the SPLC is most directly attributed to a group formed in 1973 to examine the state of youth media. Read more

Restraining student media

Student journalists across the country complained of administrative censorship this spring, from students being punished for protesting prior review of their student newspaper to school officials confiscating a publication that published editorials critical of the school. Read more

School punishes student for saying 'God bless' on air

The Dupo High School senior's First Amendment rights to religious expression and freedom of the press had collided with the school's concerns over the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits schools from promoting religion. Read more

Prior review a 'straight jacket,' adviser says

The editorials drew the ire of Principal Ann Papagiotas, who ordered the newspaper’s publication date delayed until students changed the editorials to show the school in a more positive light. After the paper was finally published, adviser Pamela Hebert resigned from her advising duties because she was afraid of losing her teaching job. Read more

Distribution rights under examination

The U.S. Supreme Court this spring declined to hear two cases involving an individual's right to distribute literature on school grounds while students in Florida and Ohio filed lawsuits over the same issue. In April, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of a New Jersey kindergartner who attempted to pass out pencils that bore the message 'Jesus [loves] the Little Children' during a class Easter party in 1998 and then candy canes with a religious message attached at another time. Read more

Jury rules school can punish student for writing story it deemed a threat

Union administrators suspended eighth-grader Allison Pitchford in April 2001 for writing a graphic story at home that she brought to school in which students and teachers were murdered. Read more

The Elephant in the Corner

Student journalists, seeking to accurately cover the wide range of concerns facing their readers, argue that sex is a topic that can and should be discussed in a school-sponsored publication. Read more

Tips for writing about teen sex

\nTeen psychologists and journalism experts suggested student journalists consider the following tips when they seek to write about sex in a student publication:\n Read more

Student photographers settle protest arrest suit

Three student photographers arrested during a September 2002 anti-war and anti-globalization protest settled a lawsuit in December against the District of Columbia. Read more

Mass. police refuse to grant student reporters press passes

The Massachusetts State Police have denied an appeal for media credentials made by a reporter for a student newspaper at Boston College because the paper does not publish daily. Read more

Band's security guards seize photojournalist's memory card

Ching Fung had worked for the student newspaper at St. Cloud State University for less than a year when the popular, Grammy Award-winning rock band Evanescence came to town. Read more

New Tenn. law requires campus crime disclosure

The law, co-sponsored by state Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and state Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, amends the Tennessee Open Records Act to force public colleges and universities to disclose three categories of student disciplinary records. Read more

D.C. university asks police to zip their lips

The confidentiality agreement asks officers to refuse to discuss or disseminate “all records related to University business or University personnel, whether received, disseminated, generated, or maintained by the Department …” Among the records officers are not to release are incident reports and personnel rosters, the agreement states. Read more

Same Game, Different Rules

Felicia is a student journalist at a public university. She is writing an article about crime on her campus and is interested in researching an armed robbery that occurred at her school last fall. Read more

How to gain access to private university police records

If you are a student journalist at a private college or university and want access to campus police records beyond basic log information, you must first determine if the campus police have law enforcement authority. If so, the campus police might be subject to your state’s open-records law. Each state’s open-records law is different, so you must research the relationship between your campus police and state law. Read more

W.Va. university retaliated against officers, jury rules

A Monongalia County jury in February ordered West Virginia University to pay $868,000 in damages for retaliating against three campus police officers who tried to report the school for allegedly falsifying campus crime statistics. Read more

Student editor sues board over closed meetings

The editor of a student newspaper at Mesa State College sued the college’s Board of Trustees in March, claiming the board failed to hold open meetings — as required by state law — during its controversial search for a new college president. Read more

Texas university finally hands over security camera records

After more than a year, an ongoing legal battle and the passage of a new law, a student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin finally got what it asked for in an open-records request — or at least some of it. Read more

La. may allow minors to use open-records law

If passed, the bill will amend the Louisiana Public Records Act to allow minors like Baker access to public records, something the current law prohibits. Barker, who helped convince a state legislator to file the bill, wants the bill to pass so that he can successfully file an open-records request as a minor, just to sweeten the icing on his birthday cake. Read more

Panel: Primate research records are public

The State Records Committee ruled in January that the University of Utah must disclose documents relating to the school’s research on animals under the Government Records Access and Management Act. Read more

Court orders N.Y. university to hand over biotech research files

A former radio show talk host finally received some documents he requested from Cornell University almost four years ago after a state court in February ordered the university to turn over information on its biotechnology research. Read more

University foundation agrees to operate in the sunshine

The University of Georgia Foundation agreed to comply with the state open-meetings law in March, avoiding litigation threatened by state Attorney General Thurbert Baker if the foundation failed to do so. Read more

Md. high court rules coaches' contracts are public records

The University of Maryland at College Park must make public the details of its employment contracts with athletic coaches, the Court of Appeals of Maryland ruled April 15. Read more

Media seek access to athletic director's employment contract

A newspaper and a television station sued the University of Kansas in January for access to the employment contract of athletic director Lew Perkins. Read more

The old ball and chain

Censorship of student media can take many forms, from administrators punishing student journalists for publishing a newspaper article to student governments taking away the student fee money that funds a radio station. Read more

Court hears arguments in Governors State case

The case pits student journalists at Governors State University against a college administrator who claimed she should have the power to review a student newspaper before it was published. A ruling in favor of the student journalists would reaffirm students’ rights to free speech. A ruling in favor of the university could limit students’ rights and give college administrators the ability to institute prior review of college student publications. Read more

Mo. college paper in mediation over cartoon

The editor of a student newspaper at Southwest Missouri State University did not expect an editorial cartoon on Thanksgiving to spark controversy, but a student group’s complaint that the cartoon was discriminatory has landed her in school-sponsored mediation with the group this spring. The newspaper’s adviser, also under fire by the student group, refused to be involved in the mediation process. Read more

Student journalists prevail in battles over censorship

Each year, student journalists fight college administrators over the right to publish student newspapers free from censorship. Read more

Colleges adopt new policies on free speech

The nation’s largest association of student judicial administrators voted in March to protect students’ First Amendment rights to free speech as three universities this spring adopted new student speech policies intended to loosen restrictions on what students can say and where they can say it. Read more

Okla. university settles lawsuit over funding for Christian paper

Ricky Thomas and James Wickett were denied funding for The Beacon OU, their newspaper that provides ''news from or with a Christian perspective,'' because a school policy prohibited the use of student fees for ''religious services.'' The students claim the policy was enforced when the student government, which allocates student fees, considered their request for funding. Read more

Taking out the Trash

In the past five years, more than 120 college student newspaper thefts have been reported to the Student Press Law Center. Read more

Six college papers fall victim to thieves

When free student newspapers are stolen on university campuses, campus and city police often do not believe it is a crime because they say there is no law under which to prosecute the theft. This spring, six student newspapers experienced that questionable line of thinking first hand.  Read more

One student disciplined for theft, others go unpunished

While journalists at six student newspapers expressed frustration over unresolved and unsolved cases of newspaper theft, at least one newspaper theft incident ended in punishment this spring for the student found responsible for the theft. Read more

Student challenges criminal libel law

A student at the University of Northern Colorado is challenging the state’s criminal libel statute, saying it is unconstitutional after he was almost charged with the crime for comments he published in his satirical online publication. Read more

Libel suits burden three student papers

Two libel lawsuits involving student newspapers in Indiana and Minnesota were filed in the past few months, while a court dismissed a libel suit filed against a student paper in Massachusetts. Read more

Private universities, newspapers clash over ads

\nControversies involving student newspapers tend to stem from editorial content, and usually involve administrators censoring a certain article or readers protesting over how events or issues are covered. Read more

Court hears alcohol ad ban appeal

A federal appeals court in January heard arguments in a case involving the University of Pittsburgh student newspaper’s challenge of Act 199, a state law that bans alcohol advertisements in student publications. Read more

N.J. student sues school district that punished him for off-campus Web site

The Web site contained one allegedly anti-Semitic posting and one vague threat: “We’ll get [Maple Place School] on the last day of school.” The anonymous author of that post later stated that it was a joke. Read more