2 Penn. college papers pay the price for publishing April Fool’s Day editions

PENNSYLVANIA –Student journalists at two private Pennsylvania universities are under fireafter publishing April Fool’s Day editions that offended their readers.After a student newspaper at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburghpublished its annual April Fool’s Day edition, which included a cartoondepicting one character uttering a racial slur, university president Jared Cohonestablished a commission to review the content of the paper to determinewhether the school should take disciplinary action against the newspaperstaff.Each year The Tartan publishes a spoof edition calledThe Natrat on April 1. In this year’s edition, a character in a cartoonexpressed approval of a black person being hit by a bicycle. The paper alsoincluded “poems about raping a teacher and mutilating a woman with an ice skate,and a graphic illustration of female genitalia,” according to an April 4 articlein The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The newspaper’s content,primarily the cartoon, prompted a protest on campus. At least 75 peoplegathered to express their disapproval of the newspaper on April 3. Thenewspaper staff has decided not to publish for the rest of the academic year,and Alex Meseguer, editor in chief of the paper, has fired the cartoonist whodrew the cartoon, proposed hiring an “ethics manager” to serve as an ombudsmanand suggested that the newspaper form a “content review board” made up ofadministrators who would review the “accuracy, relevancy and effect on thecampus of future editions,” according to the Post-Gazette article.Cohon released a statement calling the cartoon and much of the edition”horrible” and “offensive.” “It pains me, therefore, that we havestudents here who would conceive of and publish such a thing, who could possiblybelieve something like this was funny or ironic, or who don’t duly assume thefull thrust of responsibility that they have as leaders of a student newspaper,”the statement said. Meseguer was quoted in the Post-Gazette assaying, “The Tartan has committed a grave error, one that threatens ourmission, our members and our very existence.” Meseguer said printing the cartoonwas accidental because fatigue impaired his judgment.Meseguer did notrespond to requests for comment.Similar complaints about an April Fool’sDay edition at the University of Scranton caused the administration to shut downthe student newspaper, The Aquinas.According to an article in theApril 5 edition of The Scranton Times Tribune, the spoof edition ofThe Aquinas included a “fictitious reference to a priest caughtfooling around with a woman during the screening of The Passion of theChrist,” as well as a cartoon take on MTV’s Celebrity DeathMatch between the former and current university president. VincentCarilli, vice president for student affairs, accepted the publication board’srecommendation to shut down the paper. The university also changed the locks onthe doors of the newspaper office, removed all remaining copies of the AprilFool’s Day edition from campus and fired the editor in chief. “TheAquinas must develop and publish a statement of ethics prior to resumptionof publication,” Carilli said in a statement released to the universitycommunity. Carilli is also creating a list of requirements the papermust fulfill before he will allow the paper to publish again.”It is notan independent newspaper. It is supported by the university for nearly all ofits resources and funding,” said Gerry Zaboski, a university spokesman. “TheAquinas at its core is a learning tool for us. It’s an opportunity forstudents really to explore and learn and apply what they have experienced in aclassroom or what they may have an interest in doing in a real setting.”Zaboski said some material in the newspaper might have beenlibelous.“There was a complaint things might have beenlibelous,” he told the Times Tribune. Joshua Stewart,managing editor of The Aquinas said that although he did not work on theApril Fool’s Day issue, he did not see any libelous material init.“I don’t think censorship should play a part in anyinstitute of higher learning,” Stewart said. “Freedom of expressionis pretty much what makes our nation work and shutting it down is just contraryto the exchange of ideas, which is supposedly what all education is supposed tobe about.”Stewart said newspaper staff members have not heard fromthe university about when they will be able to print again.Zaboski saidthat though the university has the right to investigate student behavior forpossible disciplinary proceedings, “we have not in this case initiated anyaction at this time.”Unlike public universities, private universitiesare not bound by the First Amendment to guarantee students’ free-speech rights.However, Pennsylvania courts have ruled that the state constitution may limitthe ability of even private schools to engage in certain kinds ofcensorship.Student journalists at the University of Nebraska at Omahaalso published an April Fool’s Day edition of the student newspaper,The Gateway, under the name, The Ghettoway. According to an April6 Gateway article, the NAACP, the Urban League and Omaha Public Schoolscomplained about the issue.The editorial staff membersapologized.