MICHIGAN ‘ Administrators at Washtenaw Community College forced the campus newspaper to pull an editorial endorsement for three board of trustees candidates in the Nov. 5 election because they said the endorsement violated state campaign finance laws.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Act prohibits public bodies or those acting on their behalf from using public funds to take a stance in an election. The Student Voice receives $100,000 annually from college funds; therefore, administrators argued the newspaper would be voicing the opinion of the college by publishing the endorsement, which they said is restricted under the law.
Administrators instructed The Voice to publish the endorsement as a letter to the editor. They said this eliminated the newspaper’s official endorsement of the candidates.
The staff is now taking steps to end all prior approval by administrators. Newspaper policy states editors have the freedom to print any story as long as it’s ‘in good taste,’ said Maurice Upthegrove, managing editor.
Courts have recognized student journalists’ right to publish political endorsements. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment forbid University of Virginia from using funding as a justification for prohibiting religious or political viewpoints in student publications.
Colleen Gehoski Steinman, who oversaw the paper in an advisory role, resigned in November in part, she said, because of the administration’s unwillingness to budge on the endorsement issue.
‘That’s not how I represented myself [when hired] and it’s not how I see my role as an adviser. I don’t feel comfortable censoring my students,’ she said.