College officials trash student publications

School officials in April confiscated student newspapers on two campusesbecause they did not want prospective students and visitors to campus readingarticles the publications printed.

An administrator at La RocheCollege, a private, Catholic school in Pittsburgh, trashed almost 900 copiesof a student newspaper on campus, according to the newspaper’seditor.

Copies of the La Roche Courier were distributed on April14 and confiscated by college president Monsignor William Kerr three days later– the same day prospective students and their parents toured the collegeduring an open house.Kerr apparently confiscated the newspapers becauseof an editorial in the newspaper that advocated teaching students about safesex, said Nicole Johnson, a student editor of the newspaper.

The collegepresident told Johnson that he took the newspapers because he had to “considerthe reputation of the institution.”

The editorial, which was written byJohnson, criticized the college for informing students on where to drop offtheir unwanted babies, but not advocating enough about preventing an unwantedpregnancy.

“I understand that parents often contest to the collegeoffering condoms to students, but it’s time for the college to take a moralstand,” the editorial stated.

Johnson said she was disappointed by theincident, but said because La Roche College is a private institution, universityadministrators may have the right to make that decision.However, thePennsylvania Supreme Court said in a 1981 decision that under the protections ofthe state constitution, even private schools may be limited in the ability tocensor.

“There was a lack of respect for education in the decision made,”Johnson said. “I don’t see any reflection of the Catholic values as far as inthe decision that was made. I think it’s disgraceful.”

After a reporterfor the Courier wrote a story about the incident, the faculty advisoryboard to the newspaper and the administration agreed to allow the newspaperstaff to establish editorial guidelines by the fall.

Paul McMasters, anombudsman for the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to freespeech, said when newspapers are removed because of guests to campus, it is aviolation of both the letter and spirit of the First Amendment.

Whenschool administrators confiscate newspapers just to avoid any bad publicity,they are telling visitors that their campus is not open to the full exercise offree expression, he said.

“In most instances, it appears that mostofficials are interested in their image when they do something like this,”McMasters said. ‘They’re trying to present the image of a campus that has noconflict or controversy. Not only is that dishonest, it’s counterproductive– and such actions don’t go unpublicized.”

McMasters saidadministrators try to only present only a positive image all too often on bothpublic and private campuses.

“As a matter of fact, it appears to be partof a strategy by student groups to bring attention to their causes or issue, andby university officials to censor or regulate expression,” McMasterssaid.

At the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a universityemployee removed 450 copies of the University News, a student newspaperat the public school, because he did not want incoming students to see copies ofthe newspaper.

The newspaper reported that James F. Byland, a buildingoperations coordinator at a university recreation center, removed newspapersfrom the building, according to an article published by the student newspaper.Byland also unplugged the newsstand, which has a scrolling marquee,because he did not want students to see a front page article that discussedsexual activity taking place in the men’s locker room sauna in the studentrecreational center, the newspaper reported.

The newspapers were removedduring freshman orientation when university officials were conducting tours ofthe university.

“The stealing, destruction or confiscation of studentpublications to wash speech [that administrators] don’t like overwhelms themessage that they had hoped to send,” McMasters said. “It doesn’t do good tojust preach the First Amendment, it has to modeled by college officials,too.”

Pat Long, vice chancellor of the university, told the newspaper shewas “unaware of the decision by employees of [the recreational center] to removethe papers.” 

She also said it is “not the policy of the university to censor thestudent newspaper and neither she nor other administrators provided input to thedecision.”

Some of the newspapers were returned to the distribution rack,but newspaper staff members do not know why all of the newspapers were notreturned.

“Too many college officials think that by suppressing speechthat they’re not comfortable with, bad publicity will follow,” McMasters said.”The fact of the matter is that such actions never halt with confiscation of thenewspapers.”