Editors file lawsuit against state university for actions designed to paralyze publication

ILLINOIS — Several months of controversy surrounding GovernorsState University’s student newspaper will likely drag on following a decisionby student editors to sue the university for violating their First Amendmentrights.

Although school officials said the editors can publish at any time andhave simply chosen not to, the students say their ability to produce anewspaper has been effectively crippled.

The editor and managing editor of The Innovator filed suit againstthe GSU Board of Trustees and three administrators Jan. 24 alleging thatadministrators exercised prior restraint by ordering the paper’s printernot to publish The Innovator again unless an administrator has readthe paper and approved its content.

GSU has filed a motion to dismiss the case, but no hearing dates havebeen set, according to Tamara Cummings, the students’ attorney.

In their complaint, Innovator editor Jeni Porche and managingeditor Margaret Hosty claim officials tampered with their mail, lockedthem out of the newspaper office, replaced a computer without consent anddenied them access to equipment and supplies.

“We can secure nothing in the [Innovator] office,” Porche said.”We don’t know how many people have access [to it].”Connie Zonka, director of public affairs at GSU, disputed the editors’description of the situation.

“A lot of the accusations are simply unfounded they can go into theiroffice and publish a newspaper any time,” she said.

The last issue of The Innovator was published Oct. 31, and Hostyand Porche believe the likelihood that publication will resume anytimesoon is almost nil. They allege the university has withheld payment toeditors and other staff members and that the staff does not have accessto the equipment and supplies necessary to produce the paper. Many GSUstudents are in their late twenties or early thirties, have families andcannot afford not to be paid for their work, Porche said.

The women’s terms as editors expired at the end of April, but the universityhas yet to pay them for work they did during the fall trimester, Hostysaid. She claims the university owes her and Porche “several thousand [dollars]a piece,” and that the university also owes them money for part of theirwork done last summer.

The editors believe the administration’s attempts to rein in the paperstem from the content of investigative reports published in The Innovatorexposing wrongdoing by university officials.

“The paper during our tenure has been far more critical of the universitythan previous issues [had been],” Porche said. “I believe the administrationgot concerned.”

Former Innovator adviser Geoffroy De Laforcade said he believesit was the Oct. 31 issue that angered the administration most. In thatissue, Hosty wrote a news article detailing De Laforcade’s grievance againstthe school concerning the termination of his employment.

It “infuriated the administration,” he said.

De Laforcade also said he believes an investigation by Hosty and Porche,who are also both student senators, into the Student Media CommunicationBoard’s records alarmed administrators.

In response to the Oct. 31 issue, GSU president Stuart Fagan sent anopen letter to the university community accusing The Innovator offailing to meet “basic journalistic standards,” and saying the issue contained”an angry barrage of unsubstantiated allegations.”

Roger Oden, dean of the college of arts and sciences, also wrote anopen letter that described Hosty’s article on De Laforcade’s grievanceas “a collection of untruths being written with the intent and purposeto damage my reputation.”

In addition to the problems they face as editors, Porche and Hosty saythe controversy has prevented them from finishing their master’s degreeson time.

Professors who had said they were willing to advise the students’ thesisprojects have “now pulled away,” Hosty said, adding, “we can’t graduate.”

Before the problems with the newspaper, Porche was on track to graduatein December and Hosty in April.

Zonka said she is unaware of any attempts by school officials to preventTheInnovator from publishing. “They have had access [to their office]we’re quite saddened by this. It’s a very unfortunate situation,” she said.

Although GSU’s administration has not yet complied with the students’requests, Cummings said, “No one can dispute that we have a valid claim.”