University head affirms students’ free press rights

NORTH CAROLINA — Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took action this week to protect free speech in light of the Hosty v. Carter decision, and an administrator listened.

UNC Chancellor James Moeser signed a statement Tuesday affirming the independence of all student-edited campus media.

“Student editors have the authority to make all the content decisions and consequently bear the responsibility for the decisions that they make,” the statement read.

Members of the editorial board of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC, drafted the statement and presented it to Moeser. In an unsigned editorial, the paper’s staff wrote they were compelled to act “after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this summer that the right to a free press does not extend to college publications receiving student fees” in the Hosty v. Carter case.

The Hosty case held that the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood decision limiting high school student free expression rights could extend to college and university campuses.

Under the Hazelwood standard, administrators can censor material that is “ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched,” and “biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences,” as well as material that associates the school with “any position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy.”

Although, North Carolina does not fall in the 7th U.S. Circuit’s jurisdiction and is not affected directly by the Hosty decision, the newspaper’s editorial board wanted to be proactive.

Ryan Tuck, editor of The Daily Tar Heel, said they drafted the statement after they heard the student plaintiffs in Hosty petitioned for the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hosty would be applied to all 50 states if the Supreme Court hears the case and rules against the students. It applies currently in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

“As student journalists and First Amendment advocates, we were outraged,” Tuck said of Hosty.

The Daily Tar Heel has been financially independent from the university since 1993, but there are a number of student media groups on campus that receive funding. The statement was designed to protect them as well, Tuck said.

“We appreciate [the statement], it’s relevant to us…. It’s really important that students are reassured that no harm will come to them and that their right to free speech will be protected,” said Kevin Clark, program director of WXYC, the university’s student radio station.

by Kim Peterson