Distribution bin, newspapers disappear at New York college

The disappearance of adistribution bin containing at least 200 copies of The Student Voice, astudent newspaper at the State University of New York at Albany, could berelated to continued feuds with university staff regarding the placement ofpapers on campus, said Editor Tony Gray.

Gray said when he returned fromspring break, which was the first week of March, he learned that the bin in thePerforming Arts Center was missing. Performing Arts Center staff members hadpreviously been unhappy with the bin’s placement in the lobby, Gray said, andhad moved it to another location on several occasions. When he realized the binhad disappeared, Gray notified university police, who are now investigating thematter.

A representative from the Performing Arts Center did not returnphone calls seeking comment. Gray said that because the bin was removed duringspring break, it is unlikely that students were involved.

On anotheroccasion, Gregg Sapp, head of the science library, asked Gray to remove adistribution bin in “no more than one week” from its location at the library.Sapp said the bin was in an inconvenient spot and that there were moreappropriate locations on campus. He said he consulted with the universitycounsel and the office of student affairs before asking Gray to remove thenewspapers.

“We’re not discriminating against his newspaper inparticular,” Sapp said. “It’s a longstanding university policy that theuniversity has the right to monitor the time, manner and place where studentnewspapers are made available.”

According to the school’s senatehandbook, the administration can determine where newspapers areplaced.

“In order to maintain an orderly educational environment andcarry out its primary educational responsibilities, the university reserves theright to determine the time, place and manner for the display and/ordistribution of newspapers and other publications,” the handbookstates.

Gray followed Sapp’s order and removed the bin, but he contendshe should be able to distribute papers wherever he deemsappropriate.

“How can you reasonably deny a legitimate publication aright to distribute their papers?” Gray said.

SPLC View: Schools have theright to enforce reasonable restrictions on how, when and where publications aredistributed on campus. However, the restrictions must be reasonable andgenerally related to a valid concern regarding campus health or safety. Forexample, a rule that forbids newsracks from blocking an emergency exit would bea reasonable restriction. However, all restrictions must be content neutral. Forexample, school officials cannot remove the bin of a controversial publicationsimply because they disapprove of its content. Distribution rules must generallybe uniformly enforced against all campus publications.