Daily Texan Student Publications Board pushing to end mandatory prior review

TEXAS — The University of Texas at Austin’s Student Publications Board is awaiting a response from the Texas Board of Regents as to whether the Daily Texan will remain what many believe is the only major daily college student newspaper that is subject to prior review of its content by an adviser.

Texas Student Publications Director Kathy Lawrence said the publications board has modified its original trust agreement with the Daily Texan, adjusting the advising process and removing required prior review from the agreement.

“This is a good thing,” Lawrence said. “And we are hopeful that prior review will be eliminated.”

Since 1971, student journalists at the Daily Texan have grappled with prior review of their articles, which is a provision of the original declaration of trust between the university and the newspaper. The original trust document gave the Texas Board of Regents complete liability for the newspaper, which prompted review of each issue of the paper by an adviser before publication.

Editors at the Daily Texan have been working for more than a decade to get the review provision removed.

Courts around the country have affirmed that prior review of student publications by state school officials is a violation of the First Amendment and courts have also said that public universities cannot be held legally responsible for the content of a student publication as long as they are not reviewing or controlling that content.

The board of regents had proposed in the fall a re-declaration of trust with the student newspaper that not only kept prior review in place, but also would expand it to all student media on campus, including radio and television.

Daily Texan Editor in Chief J.J. Hermes said student journalists are having a hard time swallowing the board of regents’ proposed “re-declaration of trust.”

“Instead of getting rid of [prior review as we had requested], they proposed to expand it,” Hermes said. “I was a little surprised to see this.”

The board of regents gave the document to the TSP board to review and amend. The TSP board then submitted a revised draft of the agreement to the regents after its Dec. 1 meeting. In the revised draft, prior review is eliminated and TSP board members would take on the role of advising the newspaper.

Lawrence said the TSP board should hear from the board of regents by mid-December and hopes to have a completed draft document by February.

Lawrence said she remains confident that prior review will be eliminated when the final revised version of the trust agreement is released.

But Hermes said he remains skeptical.

“It defeats the purpose of having a student newspaper if students don’t have final say,” Hermes said. “I don’t think anyone at the regents is really interested in giving students final authority in the newspaper.”

Lawrence said prior review is a “waste of a resource” because the current advisers only review the articles after the staff has left the office. She also said that prior review is censorship and a “menace.”

Lawrence and Hermes said they do not anticipate any other major changes to the newspaper with the revised trust agreement.

“I feel like we’re on a crusade to fight the censorship that goes on,” Hermes said. “[The current system is] not really censorship, but we’re trying to make sure there is no place for it in the future.”

SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman described the University of Texas’ policy as “shocking.”

“Most colleges gave up any pretense of prior review of a student newspaper 30 years ago,” Goodman said. “The idea that a university — with a world-class journalism school no less — would still be requiring review is simply embarrassing. University administrators should know better.”

Ron Spielberger, executive director of the professional student media advising association College Media Advisers, said that any prior review by an adviser is “not a good thing.”

“Students do have the right to not be encumbered by university officials reading over their stories and saying “yay’ or “nay’ unless they are asked to make a comment,” Spielberger said.

Lawrence, who is also CMA’s immediate past president, said she hopes this experience teaches student journalists the value of the First Amendment.

“I hope students get a little lesson in negotiation and the importance and value of every word written on a piece of paper,” Lawrence said.