Fla. university prohibits release of yearbook

FLORIDA — One year after a federal appeals court ruledstudents at Kentucky State University could distribute their yearbookdespite the objections of administrators, the editor of FloridaA&M University’s yearbook has found herself in a situationstrikingly similar to the facts of that case.

Administrators cited the silver cover of the 2000-01 yearbook as a reason for withholding distribution. The university’s colors are green and orange.

Tiffany Hayes, editor of the 2001-02 Rattler, said administratorshave prohibited her from distributing last year’s book, citingproblems with the color of the cover, the book’s title, grammaticalerrors and missing photo captions. In the Kentucky State case,Kincaid v. Gibson, administrators cited the same problems.After a seven-year fight, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the SixthCircuit struck down Kentucky State’s confiscation of the bookin January 2001.

The only difference at Florida A&M was an editor’s note,written by 2000-01 editor Holly McGee, that may have played arole in the censorship. In her note, McGee questioned the disappearanceof $10,000 from the yearbook’s account. She said the missing moneyforced the yearbook to abandon its original idea for a color photoon the cover and resulted in fewer total pages.

As a result, McGee decided on a silver cover, symbolizing thenew millennium, and the title, “The Little Black Book.”She said administrators did not like the idea of a silver coverwhen the university’s colors were orange and green.

While the yearbooks sit locked away, McGee and Hayes have pressedthe administration for answers. Hayes met with student activitiesdirector Ronald Joe and interim President Henry Lewis on Tuesdayto discuss the matter. Lewis gave Hayes a copy of a yearbook markedwith grammatical errors in 15 places that he wanted corrected.

“The president told me that if I could find the moneyin the budget to fix the errors, then after they were fixed, Icould distribute the book,” Hayes said.

It would cost the yearbook about $2,000 to have Jostens, thecompany that prints the book, make stickers to paste on top ofthe grammatical errors that Lewis found, Hayes said. The universityhas declined to buy the stickers, but volunteered to pay the salariesof yearbook staffers to apply them to nearly 1,000 copies of theyearbook.

When contacted, Joe said the situation had been “amicablyresolved” and declined further comment.

Hayes, however, said she has not decided whether she wouldcomply with Lewis’ request. She must make her decision beforeshe meets with the administrators again on Jan. 30.

“We don’t have enough money in the budget for the bookthat we’re working on now, let alone the book that’s already beenprinted,” she said. “In an attempt to let the studentshave something, I suppose we could make cuts to [next year’s]book.”

Even though the administration appears to have dropped itscomplaints about the editor’s note, McGee said, she still believesit was the point of contention.

“I think it boils down to the fact that the money cameup missing,” she said. “No one ever explained it tome. They don’t want people to hear about it. Otherwise someonewould have to take the fall for it.”

The money — part of the yearbook’s operating budget — disappearedfrom the account two weeks before last spring’s exams. McGee saidshe inquired about its disappearance, but when she got no answers,she wrote the editor’s note.

“To the sneaky, back-handed and disrespectful person whosimply moved more than $10,000 from the yearbook budget withoutso much as a ‘by your leave,’ you should be ashamed of yourself,”McGee wrote. “What gave you the right to cheat both the yearbookand the students of this institution?”

Joe, who also serves as the yearbook adviser, said he had nocomment about the missing funds.

To complicate matters for the yearbook staff, the Rattler‘soffice was moved in April to a building that has since becomea construction zone — effectively barring students from the area.

Hayes said she would not be able to make any changes to the2000-01 yearbook or continue work on this year’s copy until theoffice is moved. As of Wednesday, the staff was still locked outof the building, she said.

View a timeline of the Kincaid v. Gibson court battle or read past stories from our archives.