Hosty v. Carter

412 F.3d 731 (7th Cir. 2005)

In November 2000, Dean Patricia Carter ordered the printer of Governors State University’s student newspaper, the Innovator, to cease printing unless an administrator read and approved the issue. This came shortly after the editors wrote about their adviser’s dismissal, which administrators said was unethical. Rather than comply with the new policy of prior review, which was against long-standing university policy, editors stopped publication after the paper’s Oct. 31, 2000 edition.

Editors Jeni Porche and Margaret Hosty filed a complaint in March 2001 seeking compensatory and punitive damages. A federal district court dismissed the university’s request to dismiss the case under Hazelwood v. Kuhlmier, which Governors State appealed. In 2003, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the students, saying that Hazelwood was not the appropriate standard for censorship of college student media. The school asked for a rehearing en banc, which the court granted and where the SPLC filed its amicus brief.

The SPLC expressed grave concerns with the concept of applying the Hazelwood ruling to college students. Hazelwood, which concerned a high school administrator’s censorship of the student newspaper’s articles about teen pregnancy, was structured under the idea that not all topics are appropriate for a younger audience. The SPLC brief argued that this should not apply to the university level where the audience is more mature and comprised of adults. The brief also argued that colleges are intended to be facilitators of intellectual talent and a free press is integral to enhancing a free intellectual community. Applying the Hazelwood standard would allow the administration to be above scrutiny and thus undermine intellectual freedom.

The Seventh Circuit rehearing vacated the previous ruling, finding in favor of the university. Despite a strong dissenting opinion, the court held that Hazelwood was the appropriate standard to apply to a newspaper subsidized by the school, despite the fact that the Innovator was an entirely extracurricular publication. The court declined to decide whether the Innovator was actually a public forum, but held that Dean Carter had qualified immunity from liability. 

Read the decision.