Copyright

Student Journalists Get Their Day in Court

Sep 13, 2010

A federal judge in Illinois recently cleared the way for a lawsuit against the Chicago State University administration for censorship to go to trial. Although the judge refused to decide the case in summary judgment, her ruling is considered a victory for student press since she extended broad First Amendment protections to college journalists and campus newspapers.

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College Administration Accused of Interfering with Newspaper Content

Censorship is a serious allegation. But that's exactly what Gerian Moore and George Providence are accusing the administration of Chicago State University (CSU) of perpetrating against Tempo, the college's newspaper. Moore, a former faculty adviser to Tempo and Providence, the student paper's former editor, allege that CSU tried to suppress content in Tempo that was critical of the administration, and fired Moore when they wouldn't comply.

According to court documents, Tempo published articles back in 2008 alleging that the school failed to provide promised financial aid to some student athletes. The story sparked controversy on campus, including the theft of some newspapers before they could even be read. Following the incident, Moore formed a staff advisory board for the newspaper, hoping to shield himself from future conflict with the administration. The professor anticipated more controversial articles, including an expose on funding discrepancies for an expensive campus event.

The trouble really began when Moore invited Patricia Arnold, a CSU official, to the board. According to Moore and Providence, Arnold attempted to use the board to review the paper's content before publication. When Providence refused to submit pre-publication articles, Arnold quit the advisory board and recommended that Moore be fired from the university for 'performance issues.'

Moore was fired, but the university continued to clash with Tempo. The CSU administration abruptly pulled funding, disrupting publication, and barred newspaper staff from its accessing campus offices. Eventually Providence also left the school, citing harassment from the administration.

Campus Paper

In response to the conflict, Moore and Providence brought suit against the university. They claim that CSU violated the First Amendment by interfering with the content of the paper, disrupting publication and firing Moore in retaliation.

Last week, the case came up for summary judgment in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. The judge declined to rule in favor of either side, asserting that there are issues of fact that must be determined by jurors, including whether Moore's firing was retaliatory and whether the CSU administration 'acted deliberately to alter or eliminate disfavored student speech.'

Although the case still has to go to trial, many student press advocates are heralding Judge Pallmeyer's ruling as a victory for college journalism in the U.S. In addition to extending broader First Amendment protections to student newspapers, the judge ruled that Illinois' 2008 College Campus Press Act was clearly relevant to the case.

The College Campus Press Act was enacted in response to a 2005 appeals court ruling that sparked concern over First Amendment protections for student journalists. In Hosty v. Carter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected a lower court ruling that found that college journalists have more First Amendment rights than high school journalists. Instead, the court found that public colleges and universities have many of the same rights as public high schools to manage student press - rights that include, among other things, regulating content.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, student press advocates appealed to the state legislature. As a result, the Campus Press Act became law in Illinois in 2008. It states that 'campus media produced primarily by students at a state-sponsored institution of higher learning is a public forum for expression by the student journalists and editors at the particular institution.' The designation is intended to prevent school officials from demanding pre-publication review, even if they fund the newspaper.

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, noted that by ruling that the Campus Press Act applies to the current case, Judge Pallmeyer showed that the law 'has real teeth' to protect student journalists. Now it'll be up to a jury to decide if CSU really did take 'adverse action against Tempo or its staff…designed to chill the speech contained in future editions.'

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