R.I. university forms committee to review publications, broadcasts deemed objectionable

RHODE ISLAND —- Editors of a student publicationat Roger Williams University in Bristol are fighting for their free press rightsafter university administrators formed a publications and broadcast review committee lastweek. The committee was formed two weeks after conservative students andcollege administrators clashed over the September edition of the RWU CollegeRepublicans’ newsletter, The Hawk’s Right Eye. The privateuniversity’s committee will require each student publication or radioprogram to be reviewed by its adviser prior to being printed or broadcast. Ifan adviser finds certain content objectionable, the five-member committee willreview the content and decide if the publication or radio program can state itsaffiliation with RWU, said Jason Mattera, editor of The Hawk’s RightEye.”The university does not want to lend its name willing tosomething we feel has no standards,” said Robert Avery, general counseland vice president of human resources at RWU.Avery said the universitywants to protect itself from any comments that may make the universityvulnerable to legal action. Avery said he was not aware of any legal action evertaken against the school because of content in a student publication orbroadcast. Mattera, who received notice about the newcommittee Friday, said there are no provisions that allow for students to appealthe committee’s decision. In addition, it is unclear whether thecommittee’s meetings would be open to the public, he said. The RWUfaculty senate is also in the process of creating ”communitystandards,” which would outline what can and cannot be published by astudent group, Mattera said. Both the committee and the senate’s”community standards” will affect all RWU student publications andradio programs. However, The Hawk’s Right Eye is the only partisanpublication on campus, Mattera said.”This is something thatconcerns future publications,” Mattera said. ”There may beprofessors or advisers who are not as tolerant and who might use this [policy]against conservatives.”Matt Butler, music director at WQRI, theuniversity’s radio station, said it was unclear how the committee wouldimpact the station or even how the committee would regulate content. Butlersaid the station’s adviser does not currently review any of the contentbefore it is aired. The only regulations WQRI follows are those of the FederalCommunications Commission, he said. ”If the university does infact establish something that censors publications and radio broadcasts thatgoes against what the university wants to do in terms of diversity,”Butler said.But Avery said the university’s committee would notfocus on any particular student publication or radio program. He said theuniversity’s goal is to ensure that there are a diverse number of voicesheard on campus. ”[The university] is looking to allow the maximumamount of speech without invoking legal problems,” Avery said.Thecontroversy began when, in the Sept. 30 edition of the newsletter, the RWUCollege Republicans took aim at a campus visit by Judy Shepard, whose sonMatthew was the victim of an anti-gay murder, and James Dale, who was kicked outof the Boy Scouts for being gay.In the issue, a front-page articleaccused ”militant homosexuals” of attacking free speech by pushingfor hate crime legislation. Mattera wrote in another article that a nationallyknown gay and lesbian rights group encourages children to engage in homosexualsex. The Hawk’s Right Eye also contained an article from theWorldNetDaily, a conservative publication, which detailed the rape of ayoung male by an older male. In his open letter to the RWU communityOct. 9, President Roy J. Nirschel wrote that he found the newsletter to be”pornographic in nature, mean-spirited and stereotypes gay individuals aschild molesters, criminals or deviants.”Funding for the newsletterwas abruptly frozen until pressure from national conservative groups causedadministrators to announce last week that the group’s $2,700 would bereinstated, Mattera said. In addition, the group will lose its facultyadviser. June Speakman, a political science professor whose served asthe group’s adviser since its formation two years ago, said she resignedas the College Republicans adviser because she was exhausted from defending thegroup, which she said has also been accused of espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric inthe past. She said she felt the need to distance herself from their activities.However, Speakman said she is continuing to act as the adviser until areplacement is found. RWU requires each student organization to have anadviser to be a campus organization and receive funding, she said.Aself-described liberal-Democrat, Speakman said she found the tone of the recentnewsletter to be offensive. She said she only reviewed part of the editionbefore it was published.Speakman said she agrees with university’saction and plans to review the group’s entire next issue, which is due inNovember. If anything is offensive, she said she would discuss the matter withMattera and the newsletter’s other writers before she brings it to thecommittee. ”This is a community and we need to treat each otherwith respect,” Speakman said. ”I think the this discourse needs tobe within the boundaries of civility and decency.”Mattera said herespects Speakman’s opinion and will continue to seek her input on TheHawk’s Right Eye. However, he said the RWU College Republicans planto challenge the committee even if it means bypassing it completely. He saidthat might result in the group losing its funding. ”Ultimately,we are just students and they are in charge and can abuse theirauthority,” Mattera said.