Md. college official holds paper to review content, says he will do it again

MARYLAND — A CommunityCollege of Baltimore County official confiscated the entire press run of thestudent newspaper to review content in mid-April, only to release it two dayslater after many students had left campus for spring break. Peter Law,director of student life, said he blocked distribution of The Red andBlack on April 9 to allow for fact checking. But David Morey, editor inchief of the newspaper, said the publication was held in an effort to keepstudents from reading an editorial critical of theadministration.Articles and editorials in the past few editions haveaccused the administration of being “top heavy” — hiringtoo many administrators and too few faculty members. Because the studentnewspaper falls under the umbrella of student life, Morey said Law fearedretaliation from the administrators if items in the newspaper offendedthem.“We had no prior warning,” Morey said. “Thepurpose for [Law] was to cover his job security from the administration, who hashad a tendency to react negatively to bad press consistently over a number ofyears.”Typically, copies of the newspaper are delivered to theoffice of student life and picked up by staff members for distribution. BecauseLaw’s office is nearby, he often is the first person to see each edition.Upon viewing a copy of the April 9 issue, Law held the copies because he saidthey needed additional review.Law maintains that his decision was notbased on a personal agenda, nor was he attempting to censor the newspaper. Hesaid he held the 1,000 copy press run because newspaper adviser Dell Hagan, whowas on sick leave, had not looked over the edition.“I was veryconcerned, as anybody in my position would be, to make sure that everything wasdone correctly, whether it’s grammatical or mistakes in researching issuesand facts,” Law said. “That was my only reason for delayingit.”Morey said some administrators have suggested implementing apolicy of prior review, in which the newspaper would be approved by a designatedperson before it would be printed and distributed. He said efforts to institutethis policy have been quashed and that the newspaper has often gone to presswithout the approval of even the adviser. “They tried to insist onprior approval, and we have explained numerous times that we don’t doit,” Morey said. “It lacks integrity. It’s wrong. Youdon’t give prior approval to people you write your paper about. Youdon’t give it to anyone.” Because the Community College ofBaltimore County is a public institution, students are afforded broadprotections under the First Amendment. Courts has ruled that efforts byadministrators to censor student publications because of content areunconstitutional. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recentlysaid that a Governors State University administrator had no legal backing forordering prior review of the school’s student newspaper, even if it was for acheck of grammatical and spelling errors. See Governors State decision. Law said he would delay the paper in the future if he thoughtsome material needed review. “There’s no way I ever want tobe involved with censorship whatsoever,” Law said. “At the sametime, I do want to make sure the newspapers continue in the future. I want tomake sure there’s no libel, the facts are double-checked, that’s mymain concern really.”Morey, who will graduate in May, said he haslearned a great deal about student rights as a result of theconfiscation.“If you’re going to print somethingcontroversial, you need to be there when it arrives to make sure that peoplewill get to read it,” Morey said. “There’s a need for somebodywith a strong knowledge of press law willing to go toe to toe with theadministration at all times because otherwise we’ll end up being apublicity paper for the college. You lose your student press when thathappens.”