Iowa State wins one, loses two against Ames Tribune

IOWA — A U.S. district judge has rejected Iowa State University’s policy concerning publication distribution on campus and its fee charging practice for news racks, but refused to determine whether the university is fair in “restricting” distribution of two newspapers published by the Ames Daily Tribune Company.

In Judge Harold D. Vietor’s early December ruling in the Tribune’s lawsuit, Partnership Press v. Madden, he stated that Iowa State’s distribution policy gave the school’s Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden “unbridled discretion to grant or deny” periodical distribution on campus. Veitor found the policy unconstitutional because it contained no specific standards for approval or disapproval and because it lacked an appeals process. He also noted that the policy failed to provide a check on Madden’s authority.

Vietor also found Iowa State’s news rack fees to violate the First Amendment. Iowa State’s policy stated that this annual fee was used “to fund refuse disposal costs and custodial services.” In addition, the university charged higher fees for non-university-sponsored publications than university sponsored-publications. Because the fees covered costs not associated with “administering and enforcing the permission requirements,” Veitor found the policy to be unconstitutional.

However, the Ames Tribune and its student-focused publication, the Campus Reader, will have to wait for trial in late spring to see if the court rules in their favor on a larger issue. The two newspapers, both non-university-sponsored publications, argue that the university unfairly restricts them to fewer distribution locations than university-sponsored publications, including the Iowa State Daily, the student newspaper.

The Tribune and the Iowa State Daily have been involved in an ongoing battle over their competitive relationship since 1995.

Although Judge Vietor denied the Tribune’s motion for summary judgment on this issue, he noted his awareness of Iowa State’s reasoning for developing the policy. “[D]rawing the line at [preferential distribution rights for] student periodicals may well be within the authority given to a university to further its educational mission,” he wrote.

Madden said that, overall, the university feels the judge’s decision seemed to support its position, even though he did not rule in the school’s favor.