University of Southern Indiana president signs public forum statement

INDIANA — They say they have always had it, but now they have it in writing – student editors at the University of Southern Indiana can make all content decisions without censorship or advanced approval.

University of Southern Indiana President Ray Hoops signed a statement to that effect Oct. 4, making his school the second to formally designate its student newspaper as a public forum in response to the Student Press Law Center’s call for schools in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin to explicitly state their position on freedom of the collegiate press.

“The university administration have always been very supportive and hands off, but it just shows great support that they put it in writing,” said Shyloh Karshner, editor of The Shield, the university’s student newspaper.

“I tell you what, I am proud of our administration,” said Dal Herring, chair of the university’s student publications committee, which voted unanimously to ask the administration to sign the public forum statement last month. “I think it’s going to be a great benefit to the campus and our students and to the department.”

Herring, who also chairs the communications department and teaches journalism at the school, said the statement will benefit faculty advisers and professors as well as students.

“It is extremely difficult for a teacher to get in front of a classroom and talk about free press and freedom of expression but say, ‘well that’s the way it is out in the real world, but you can’t do that at school,'” he said.

And as for faculty advisers, a lot of them are not tenured and are constantly worried that their students’ decisions might cost them their jobs, said Herring, who was a student newspaper adviser for 11 years.

“There’s a sense of security there when the university has officially endorsed the concept of your medium as being a public forum,” he said. “To me, it’s profound.”

By designating The Shield as a public forum, Hoops indicated his intent to guarantee that Shield editors have the highest level of freedom of the press possible under the June decision in Hosty v. Carter. In that decision, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a student newspaper must be designated as a public forum for editors to have strong First Amendment protection. Hoops also included Access USI, a campus television show, in the public forum statement he signed.

“This is a really great place to be a journalist,” said Shield adviser Patricia Ferrier. “Students have to have free speech if they are going to learn how to function in this society as citizens.”

by Evan Mayor, SPLC staff writer