Rutgers forced to pay more legal fees to alumni group

NEW JERSEY — Rutgers University was ordered to pay an additional $10,000 in legal fees to the American Civil Liberties Union Sept. 16, following a four-year court battle over a dispute involving advertising in the university’s alumni magazine. The trial court had already ordered the university to pay the ACLU $77,000.

The case, which has cost the university $375,000 in its own legal fees, was finally put to rest after the state appellate court rejected Rutgers’ recent motion for reconsideration and clarification of its August decision.

The dispute between the school and the Rutgers 1000 Alumni Council, who the ACLU represented, began during the summer of 1998 after the alumni group submitted an advertisement to Rutgers Magazine. The ad opposed Rutgers’ participation in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Big East Conference.

Magazine editors refused to place the ad citing an unwritten policy banning issue-oriented ads.

The appellate court ruled in August that the school magazine had neglected to follow its own policy after publishing in other issues numerous athletic department ads promoting Big East ticket sales. The court said the university had the right to reject issue-oriented ads but in this case had engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

In a statement released from Rutgers last month, the university said it is “pleased that the August 2, 2002, Appellate Division decision rejected almost all the lower court’s reasoning and rulings and affirmed that Rutgers has the right to create and enforce a policy of refusing issue-oriented advocacy ads.”

Although the appellate court failed to address the relationship between student publications and universities, ACLU attorney Grayson Barber said student journalists continue to retain the rights operating free of censorship.

“When you have a student-run publication where the editorial decisions are being made by students, then that publication gets a lot of freedom,” Barber said. “The [publication] could take or reject ads for any reason — that’s a First Amendment right.”

The university has decided not to appeal the August decision to the state supreme court.

Read previous coverage Rutgers Magazine must print alumni group’s ad, appeals court rules