Students accuse college of attempt to censor paper

NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit\nagainst a Buffalo community college following a decision by the\nschool’s board of trustees to halt production of the student newspapers\nat each of the college’s three branches and consolidate them into\none newspaper sponsored by the public relations department.

Erie Community College officials have said the newspapers were\nrestructured to save money. But some students and faculty at the\ncollege believe officials shut the papers down to silence the\npublications’ staffs.

“They just did not like what we were printing,” said\nSarah Ruggles, former editor of the student newspaper at the college’s\ncity campus. “They didn’t like the things that we were saying\nor the message we were sending to the student body.”

Bill Shoe, the adviser for the city campus newspaper, said\nErie officials had been trying for several years to take over\ncontrol of the student newspapers because they disagreed with\nthe publications’ content.

“Our papers have been controversial for a couple of years,”\nShoe said. “We have a lot of political problems at our school,\nand the students have written honestly about them.”

Shoe added that he believes the decision to shut down the newspapers\nmay have been precipitated by an investigation into the college’s\nallocation of student activity fees. The editor of the student\nnewspaper at Erie’s north campus, Jill Rowell, reported extensively\non the failure of Erie’s Auxiliary Services Corporation-the department\nthat administers student activity fees-to maintain an accurate\nbudget.

In addition, Rowell reported that the ASC violated the state\nfreedom of information act by failing to comply with the newspaper’s\nrepeated requests for bank statements. Rowell also reported that\nthe ASC violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act\nby placing eight boxes — designated as trash — containing sensitive\nstudent information in a public hall outside its office.

Shoe said Erie’s board of trustees made the decision to shut\ndown the newspapers without consulting faculty members or students.\n

“I was very much against [shutting down the newspapers],\nand I protested it,” Shoe said. “But they were not interested\nin listening to any students or faculty about the matter.”\n

Ruggles said she was angered by the board’s failure to consider\nstudents’ wishes in restructuring the newspapers.

“It’s really violated our trust in the college to think\nthey would do something like that without even consulting us or\nconsidering our needs,” she said.

Shoe said he does not believe that the board of trustees has\nthe authority to shut down the newspapers.

He said the board of trustees set up the ASC as an independent\nagency to administer student activity fees to campus organizations,\nsuch as the three student newspapers. If any decisions about newspaper\nfunding are made, he said, they should be made by the ASC.

Calls made by the Report to board of trustees members via the\ncollege president’s office were not returned.

Ruggles said she is suing Erie because she believes the board’s\nactions violated the First Amendment rights of students. She said\nshe wants the college to re-establish the three campus newspapers.\n

“I think that students long after me will appreciate it\nif they have three strong newspapers,” Ruggles said. “I\nthink having a strong voice on campus for everybody-for your faculty,\nyour students and your administration-is really important, and\nI think that in years to come, if we win this, it will be a helpful\ntool for everybody.”