College Censorship In Brief

Student files suit after Troy university censors nude photographs

ALABAMA — The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates students’ free expression rights, filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 31 against Troy University for a speech code FIRE’s President David French called “incompatible with a free society.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Blake Dews, a senior art major at Troy’s main campus. In the fall of 2003, he designed a photographic display for an assignment about birth, photographing nude models. The artwork did not meet the definition of obscenity under federal or state law, but several photos were taken off display anyway, FIRE’s press release said.

“The photographs in question displayed male full frontal nudity and the university did not consider the photographs to be consistent with our community’s standards,” wrote Clif Lusk, coordinator of Troy University media relations, in a statement.

Lusk said in the statement that the university’s attorneys are looking into the matter and beyond that he had no further comment.

Faculty panel overturns chancellor’s move to shut down TV station

NEW YORK — A faculty panel at Syracuse University in November partially overturned Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s decision to disband the school’s student-run television station.

But Cantor’s move has created a “bitter, emotional, very divided” debate on campus pitting free speech advocates against those who supported Cantor’s decision, said journalism professor Charlotte Grimes.

Instead of disbanding the station, the panel said it could begin airing shows in February provided station managers fulfill a number of restructuring requirements.

Cantor disbanded the station in October after some students expressed outrage over an entertainment show modeled after “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The show made light of eating disorders, date rape and lynching, among other issues.

Some students say the chancellor’s actions as well as the faculty panel’s decision may chill unpopular viewpoints on campus.

Syracuse feels “much more like a junior high school than a top tier university,” said Jared Novack, editor in chief of The Daily Orange, the university’s student newspaper.

Because Syracuse is a private university, administrators there do not have the same constitutional limitations in censoring student media found at public institutions.

Ironically, the journalism school at Syracuse joined a brief supporting student press freedom before the U.S. Supreme Court in October (See Hosty coverage)

Speech zone policy OK, appeals court rules

MARYLAND — A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Sept. 12 that the University of Maryland at College Park could keep its policy confining speakers who are not students or faculty to specified “free-speech zones.”

The appeal dealt only with the rights of non-student speakers. Two years ago the university settled an initial lawsuit by rewriting its Event Management Handbook to allow students and faculty to speak and distribute literature in any outdoor area of the campus.

A lawyer representing the two students who originally filed the lawsuit against the University of Maryland said that his clients will not appeal the decision regarding non-student speakers.

Case: ACLU v. Mote, 423 F.3d 438 (4th Cir. 2005)

Student leaders try to require student paper to run column by president

TENNESSEE — Student government leaders revised a resolution at the end of September 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.

The original senate resolution, passed by the student government at the University of Tennessee at Martin, 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 Pacer staff.”

On Sept. 22, the student government president 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 to do so.

Officials say they will not appeal 5th Circuit pamphlet decision

TEXAS — University of Texas at Austin officials said they have decided not to appeal a court decision that found a policy banning the distribution by students of anonymous pamphlets on campus is unconstitutional.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on May 27 a district court ruling that the anti-abortion student group Justice for All should have been allowed to hand out pamphlets on campus, even though they did not list a campus group responsible for them. A U.S. District Court ruled in Justice for All’s favor in February 2004.

The school’s policy required all handouts to have a school-affiliated person or group responsible for distributing the handouts listed on the materials. n

Case: Justice For All v. Faulkner, 410 F.3d 760 (5th Cir. 2005)

Both charges dropped against student protestor

VIRGINIA — Prosecutors dropped charges Nov. 16 against a George Mason University student who was arrested by campus police for protesting military recruiters.

Tariq Khan said he was protesting Marine recruiters at a student center on campus at lunch in September when campus police told him he had to leave the area because he did not have a permit.

Khan said that although he was glad the trespassing and disorderly conduct charges were dropped, he still has a “big problem” with the university.

“They still have a long way to go because the university administration and the police still won’t admit any wrongdoing,” said Khan, a junior sociology major.

University officials have concluded that the police did not do anything wrong after conducting two internal investigations of the incident, said university spokesman Daniel Walsch.

Khan, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia in court Nov. 14, said he is considering legal action against the university.

“He never should have been charged in the first place,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the Virginia ACLU. “We are looking forward to see what GMU does to revise its policies to ensure students’ free speech rights are protected.”

Official says Ball State violated open records act in refusing document

INDIANA — Ball State University administrators violated the state’s Access to Public Records Act when they refused to give the student newspaper documents they made available to the rest of the campus community, according to a Nov. 10 decision by the state’s public access counselor.

Faculty, staff and students were allowed to see the provost candidate evaluation forms, but they first had to sign a document saying they would not distribute the information publicly.

The forms were evaluations of the provost candidates filled out by administrators, faculty, staff and students who interviewed the candidates.

Administrators denied editors at The Ball State Daily News their original requests for the evaluation forms. But in light of the public access counselor’s decision, university officials have since turned over the forms.

A provost was not selected from the search in question. Administrators have started a new provost search and have said they will not make the evaluation forms public to anyone this time around.

Former college radio host to appeal decision

CALIFORNIA — A former student radio host who sued Occidental College for $10 million has decided to appeal a Los Angeles superior court’s decision that dismissed his lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Jason Antebi claimed that his rights were violated when school officials fired him for content he aired.

“The primary reason [for the appeal] is that we think the court got it wrong,” said Christopher Arledge, Antebi’s attorney.

The court ruled Aug. 1 that California’s Leonard Law, which gives students at private colleges some of the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by students at public schools, can only be used by students who are enrolled in school at the time they file a lawsuit.

The court dismissed Antebi’s lawsuit against Occidental College because he filed the suit eight months after he graduated from the institution.

Arledge said the ruling made the Leonard Law ineffective because administrators can avoid the law by expelling students.

Arledge said Antebi is in the process of appealing.

Station suspended indefinitely

CALIFORNIA — A one-night hiatus for the student-run television station at the University of California at San Diego has turned into an indefinite suspension.

Student government officials, worried the station was planning to air unscreened material on Nov. 3 in violation of a recent amendment to the station’s charter, asked the university to pull the station off the air for the night, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

School administrators would not turn the station back on when student government officials asked them to a day later, said student government president Christopher Sweeten.

“It’s completely censorship,” said station manager Tiffany Rapp, who said students now see this as a free speech issue.

“This is not about censorship,” school spokeswoman Stacie Spector told The Union-Tribune. “This is about ensuring student safety, security and the effective enforcement of rules and regulations.”

The television station should not face censorship from the student government or the school, Rapp said.

University officials have said the station will not be put back on the air until a programming board is established, among other prerequisites. Sweeten said rewriting the station’s charter to meet administrators’ could take months.