Student editors react to Hosty decision

Student editors at three student newspapers said collegejournalists need to start discussing the effects ofHosty v. Carter now that the Supreme Courthas decided not to hear thecase.

”[Hosty]’scome up from time to time [in our newsroom],” said Aaron Seidlitz, editorin chief of Eastern Illinois University’s student newspaper, the Daily Eastern News. ”Most of thetime it’s with the staff and a few professors as well. I think that everycollegiate newspaper should just have conversations with their advisers just tohave a better understanding of the situation and where theystand.”

The Court’s ruling lets stand a June 2005 decisionby the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that could provide universityadministrators with authority to censor school-sponsored speech by publiccollege students and faculty, including speech in some student newspapers, atschools in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The 7th Circuit’sdecision is only binding in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin and is in directconflict with decisions of other state and federal courts around thecountry.

At Northern Illinois University, student newspaper editorDerek Wright said that administrators at the university have not had a historyof restricting free speech, but he still fears thepossibility.

”It’s scary, especially for us, because lastweek we published the Muhammad cartoons,” he said. ”If the schoolsare now going to be allowed to step in and censor something like that, it couldprevent future decisions on hot button issues.”

Although hespoke of the possibility, Wright said that he is not particularly worried aboutthe Northern Star being censoredimmediately because of Hosty. The paperis funded entirely by advertising, but it maintains some ties with theuniversity, he said. Papers that are completely independent from the universityare not affected by the Hosty decisionbecause they do not fall under school-sponsored speech. But using school officespace, for example, could be enough to constitute schoolsponsorship.

Nonetheless, Wright described the university presidentand the paper’s advisers as being ”very supportive of the freepress,” he said.

Wright is not letting the fact that theenvironment at Northern Illinois University has been press friendly in recentyears prevent him from taking measures to ensure that freedom, he said. Thepaper is currently looking into being recognized as a public forum by universityadministrators.

The Student Press Law Center is encouraging studentsin Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin to call upon their schools to pledge theircommitment to free speech by explicitly designating their student media as”public forums” where student editors have the right to make editorial decisionsfree from administrative interference. Since the appeals court decision in June,a small number of schools in the 7th Circuit have done so, but it is expectedthat others will follow as student and faculty groups demand such action. (See details.)

“This ruling changes the playing field. People inIllinois, Indiana and Wisconsin who care about free expression need to takesteps today to defend a free student press if they want to ensure a free presswill be around tomorrow,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of theSPLC.

The Northern Star isnot the only paper attempting to be declared a public forum. Ball StateUniversity’s student newspaper, BallState Daily News, is also looking into being declared a public forum,said Editor in Chief Dave Studinski.

”I definitely feel likeit’s something that needs to be done,” he said. ”Sincewe’ve had a history of freedom of the press, we shouldn’t have aproblem” being declared a public forum.

Studinski said he isnot only thinking of the present but also toward thefuture.

”It’s the future generations that have to worryabout this,” Studinski said. ”Right now there aren’t anyproblems with this administration, but what happens if the administrationchanges, when the president leaves?”

The appeals court ruledthat the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v.Kuhlmeier, which has been used to restrict the First Amendment rights ofelementary and high school students and teachers, could apply to colleges anduniversities as well. The appeals court decision is in stark contrast to overthree decades of law that have protected college student journalists’ freespeech rights from censorship by school officials unhappy with what theypublish.

Organizations that filed briefs supporting the students inthe Hosty case said they are upset withthe Supreme Court’s decision, but that they will continue to fight forstudents’ rights.

”The Supreme Court made the wrongdecision flat out,” said Greg Lukianoff, interim president of theFoundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit organizationdedicated to defending individual rights at colleges and universities.”This decision has badly muddied the legal landscape when it comes tofreedom of speech. I’ve previously called this decision a disaster, and Istand by that.”

byRicky Ribeiro SPLC staff writer