Censored TV station at Syracuse back on air; free speech questions persist

NEW YORK — Syracuse University students regained control of theirtelevision station Monday, nearly six months after Chancellor Nancy Cantor shutdown the student-run station in response to a news satire show.

Butsome professors said a rift between free speech advocates and Cantor’ssupporters continues to divide the faculty oncampus.

”There’s a tension,” said journalismprofessor Charlotte Grimes. ”I think people are increasingly cautiousabout what they say publicly, particularly if they don’t havetenure.”

The university granted ”provisionalrecognition” to the student media organization Monday, making it possiblefor students to resume operations as a student-run television station, accordingto a statement on theuniversity’s Web site.

With ”provisional” statuscomes strict administrative supervision, meaning the station’s stafferswill have to gain approval in advance from the university to modify bylaws andother operating procedures, said university spokesman Kevin Morrow in an e-mail.The station will operate under provisional recognition until Sept. 15 and willbe on disciplinary probation until April 2, 2007, according to thestatement.

Cantor disbanded HillTV in October after some studentsexpressed outrage over an entertainment show modeled after “The Daily Show withJon Stewart” called “Over the Hill.” The show included segments about “smellyIndian kids,” jokes about mentally retarded people and Cantor’s desire for”thick black sausage.” (See below for a link to sample clips.)

A faculty panel partiallyoverturned Cantor’s decisionin November, saying the station could begin airing shows provided that stationmanagers fulfilled a number of restructuring requirements.

Cantor hassaid she did not censor the TV station, but that she was merely enforcing theuniversity’s conduct code. The faculty panel upheld Cantor’s determination thatthe TV station violated the conduct code because its material “threatened themental health and safety of individuals and groups on campus,” according to thedecision.

“With free expression comes responsibilities for being apart of a campus community,” Cantor told the SPLC in an interview in December.”We have codes of conduct….I don’t think it is beyond question to ask peoplewho are in a diverse campus community to abide” by thosecodes.

Because HillTV is a student organization funded throughstudent fees, Cantor said she was well within her right to shut down thestation.

“Recognition of a student organization is a privilege, not aright,” she said.

Rich Levy, the renamed Citrus TV’s generalmanager and a senior at Syracuse, said students fulfilled all of therequirements set forth by the faculty panel.

”We’re gladto get up and running,” he said. ”I think the changes we’vemade are more or less for the positive.”

Those changes includethe appointment of an organizational consultant and a university adviser and thecreation of a Board of Advisers and a Committee on Cultural Competence, which isdesigned to “assist the organization with matters of content, perspective andtone,” according to a university statement.

”I am veryproud of the students behind CitrusTV, particularly the way they have embracedthe opportunity to grow from the experiences of the past six months,” saidMichael Schoonmaker, the station’s new faculty adviser, in a statement.

”I look forward to working with them as they connect their creativity intochallenges ahead — to become not only a robust student televisionorganization, but more importantly a model forothers.”

Schoonmaker did not return a call seekingcomment.

Levy said students fought throughout the process ofdeveloping the new bylaws for thestation to make sure ultimate authority on content decisions remained instudents’ hands.

”We’ll give great weight andserious consideration to the advice from the faculty adviser and others,”he said. ”Ultimate authority and control still rests with the studentexecutive staff.”

A divided faculty

Shortly after the chancellor shut down the station,more than 60 professors and staff in the S.I. Newhouse School of PublicCommunications, for which Grimes teaches, wrote aletter toThe Daily Orange, Syracuse’sstudent newspaper, condemning Cantor’s move to shut down the station. The lettersaid Cantor’s decision “damaged” free speech and free press values as well asdiversity values.

The division between free speech supporters andCantor’s supporters has become more pronounced since the letter, Grimessaid.

”It seems that coverage in

The Daily Orange or letters to theeditor or anything that raises any concerns about the direction of theuniversity or the chancellor’s behavior is often likely to spark anoutpouring of support for her,” she said. ”And this becomes a realsource of tension, dividing the faculty and different groups of thefaculty.

”There is a sense that if you speak out you might verywell get a phone call from the powers that be.”

A receptionist in Cantor’s office said she was out of town and not available forcomment.

Morrow, the spokesman, said the university welcomesdiffering viewpoints.

”SU encourages and supports all of itsmembers in expressing dissenting views and is focusing considerable energy onexploring the tensions that exist in society between free speech andnon-discrimination,” Morrow said in an e-mail.

Francis Ward,another journalism professor at the Newhouse School, said he disagrees thatthere is a feeling of restraint among faculty who wish to speak theirmind.

”The atmosphere here is better than it was,” Wardsaid. ”I was never one of those who thought there was anything like apervasive atmosphere that stifled free speech.”

Ward, whoteaches a graduate media ethics class among other classes, said he thoughtCantor was wrong to shut down the student television station, but that hisopinion on free speech lies somewhere between Cantor’s supporters and theFirst Amendment absolutists.

”What I have told my students mostof all is that while we all revere and cherish the freedoms guaranteed under theFirst Amendment, there are some restrictions on free speech,” hesaid.

Ward described the friction on campus as being between freespeech rights and the potential for harm that may be done to the Syracusecommunity. And many people have different views on where to draw that line, hesaid.

”I’m willing to allow people to say crazy things,dumb things without censure of any kind, as long as there is no potential forharm,” he said. For Ward, the HillTV show ”Over the Hill” crossed that line.

Coulter controversy

The Daily Orange reportedlast week that administrators met with College Republicans March 29 to discussthe group’s decision to bring conservative commentator Ann Coulter tocampus.

The meeting was in response to 35 bias-related incidentreports the Coulter speech generated, according to the article. The incidentreports are part of aTeam Against Biasinitiative out of the Division of Student Affairs that allows community membersto report incidents of bias.

The meeting was closed to the public soit was difficult to figure out exactly what happened, said Jared Novack, formerDaily Orange editor and author of thestory.

”There’s a real culture of secrecy that goes onhere,” he said. ”They hide it under this guise that we are trying tomake it a safe place for people to express themselves.”

TiffanyDamick, the former chair of the College Republicans, said an administratorapproached a member of her organization following the speech with concerns aboutcontent, according to the article in the student newspaper. But no specificoutcome of the meeting was ever reported.

A call placed to theDivision of Student Affairs was directed to Morrow, the universityspokesman.

”Syracuse University welcomes controversial speakersand differing viewpoints,” Morrow said in an e-mail. ”The filing ofa bias-related incident report creates an opportunity for facilitated dialogueamong involved parties, such as those who found themselves in opposition to therecent visit to campus by Ann Coulter.”

Ward, the journalismprofessor, said Coulter should have the same rights as anyone else to speak atSyracuse.

He said parameters need to be set about what is grounds forhate speech because some people on campus are confusing hate speech with speech they disagree with.

”The only prohibition I would put on all ofthem is that they don’t rally to commit violence,” he said.

”Free speech starts with advocacy and stops with violence.”

Looking Forward

While the debate about the limits of free speechcarries on at Syracuse, Levy, the TV station manager, said he is excited aboutthe TV station’s future.

He said CitrusTV is in the process ofredesigning its Web site and that staff members will attempt to have all contentbroadcast online in the coming months.

As for another satire showlike ”Over the Hill”: ”I don’t think that we’regoing to start producing another show like that tomorrow, but I wouldn’tput it outside the realm of possibilities down the road,” Levysaid.

For Grimes, the journalism professor who has observed achilling affect among the faculty, the future is not sobright.

”We teach and preach free press, and we value thatgreatly. Anything that inhibits that free exchange of ideas is a source ofdistress, disappointment and downright outrage,” Grimes said. ”Inthe name of tolerance people are becoming relentlesslyintolerant.”

When asked if this conflict between free speechadvocates and Cantor supporters would affect programming on the new student-runtelevision station, Levy said, ”I don’t think I’m going tocomment on that.”