TENNESSEE — Student government leaders last week revised a resolution that would have forced a student newspaper to run a weekly column by the student body president after a lawyer advised them that the resolution was not legal.
“We can’t knowingly sign something we think isn’t as legally sound as it should be,” said Student Government Association President James Orr in an article in The Pacer, the student newspaper at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The original senate resolution required that The Pacer “publish a weekly editorial, which is to be entitled Student Government Association’s Corner, which is to be published without any changes or alterations by the Pacer staff.”
“What this thing broke down to…was that the student government wanted a corner of the newspaper so that when we wrote things about them they could immediately react in print,” said Stephen Yeargin, editor of The Pacer.
Yeargin said he found it interesting that the resolution came to the senate floor one day after The Pacer ran a story about how student government leaders’ tuition is paid for with student fees.
After several e-mails back and forth between the student body president and the editor, Yeargin met with Jerald Ogg, dean of the college of humanities and fine arts. Ogg, a lawyer who specialized in media law before joining the university staff, told Yeargin that the resolution was not legal for several reasons.
Ogg underlined three points that made the resolution illegal. First, the university as a government entity could not dictate the content of the newspaper. Second, a reference in the resolution to the newspaper’s use of student fees to run the paper could be perceived as a threat to the paper’s funding. Finally, no newspaper should be forced to waive its right to edit the content of its publication because it will still be liable for the content.
On Sept. 22, Orr proposed an amendment to resolve the legal problems with the resolution, which passed without dissent, said Tomi Parrish, The Pacer’s adviser. The new version encourages the student newspaper to publish a student government column, but does not require it.
“The staff is satisfied, because we were told, ‘yes this is right, you are absolutely right, but don’t gloat,’ so we’re trying really hard not to gloat,” Parrish said.
—by Kim Peterson, SPLC staff writer