Florida university prohibits release of yearbook, citing grammatical errors, color of yearbook cover

One year after a federal appeals court ruled students at Kentucky State University could distribute their yearbook despite the objections of administrators, the editor of Florida A&M University’s yearbook has found herself in a situation strikingly similar to the facts of that case. Among other things, administrators cited the silver cover of the 2000-01 yearbook as a reason for stopping the scheduled Jan. 15 distribution. The university’s colors are green and orange.

Tiffany Hayes, editor of the 2001-02 Rattler, said administrators have prohibited her from distributing last year’s book, citing problems with the color of the cover, the book’s title, grammatical errors 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 Sixth Circuit struck down Kentucky State’s confiscation of the book in 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 a role in the censorship. In her note, McGee questioned the disappearance of $10,000 from the yearbook’s account. She said the missing money forced the yearbook to abandon its original idea for a color photo on the cover and resulted in fewer total pages.

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

While the yearbooks sit locked away, McGee and Hayes have pressed the administration for answers. Hayes met with student activities director Ronald Joe and interim President Henry Lewis on Jan. 22 to discuss the matter. Lewis gave Hayes a copy of a yearbook marked with grammatical errors in 15 places that he wanted corrected.

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

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

Hayes, however, said she has not decided whether she would comply with Lewis’ request. She says she will make her decision before she meets with the administrators again at the end of this month.

SPLC View: Our first response when we heard this story was that it was simply too early for April Fool’s jokes. We were even more stunned to confirm that the story was accurate. After seeing administrators at Kentucky State University spend seven years and waste over $100,000 in legal fees and expenses only to be reminded that they couldn’t do this type of thing, one would hope that officials at Florida A&M would have better ways to occupy their time and resources.