MISSOURI — Three resolutions that critics say are an attack on the First Amendment rights of student journalists have been approved by student senators at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.
Although it is unlikely that school officials will enforce these proposals, student editors at the U-News say their right to a free press is in jeopardy, Editor in Chief Nick Barron said.
The first resolution states that the U-News should publish a report of every Student Government Association meeting. The second resolution recommends the removal of the paper’s adviser, Bob Unger, since he also heads the paper’s publication board. Another resolution encourages the paper to print circulation numbers in future issues, due to incorrect circulation numbers in the past. A fourth resolution, which was vetoed, suggests a $15,000 funding cut for the paper.
Geoff Gerling, the president of the Student Government Association, signed the resolutions on Oct. 8. He sent the resolutions to student groups and school officials, including Bryan LeBeau, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. LeBeau has said that he probably will not enforce the resolutions.
Student Government Association senator Sarah Peters said the resolutions were proposed in September because problems with the U-News had been raised, such as the quality of the paper and its relevance on campus. The goal of the resolutions was to improve the quality of the U-News without affecting the content of the paper, she said.
“We don’t believe in censoring the paper. We don’t believe in censoring anyone,” she added.
Gerling said the resolutions are merely suggestions. “There’s no First Amendment violation because [the resolutions are] not a mandate,” he said.
But Barron and adviser Bob Unger said the resolutions, which propose outside control of the paper’s content, constitute a violation of the paper’s First Amendment rights.
“The problem is that a lot of those people don’t seem to realize what the law is,” Unger said.
In the student government meeting on Sept. 29, all but two senators voted for the resolutions. Barron said senators may have thought the resolutions were simply suggestions for the paper’s editors, rather than resolutions, which could explain the majority vote.
LeBeau, the dean of the college, said he does not think the resolutions have a chilling effect upon the First Amendment — yet.
“These are simply resolutions, they have no binding effect whatsoever,” he said. “However, we understand that if [the attitude of these resolutions] prevails, then it can have a chilling effect.”
Jim Highland, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Vice President for Campus Affairs, is sending a seven-member task force to the university this month to investigate the situation.
Barron and Unger said the resolutions should be rescinded. Instead of instituting resolutions, Barron said, students at the university need to communicate their frustrations and suggestions directly to the U-News.
“We don’t need people trying to censor us,” Barron said. “We just need some positive feedback.”