Grambling State student paper elects to shut down for fear of adviser termination

LOUISIANA — Editors and newspaper staff members at Grambling State University have decided to cease publication of The Gramblinite for fear of adviser termination after administrators claimed they had the right to suspend the newspaper under the 2005 Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Hosty v. Carter.

Provost Robert Dixon sent a Jan. 17 memorandum to Gramblinite faculty Publication Director Wanda Peters that stated the newspaper was suspended for the rest of January or until administrators are content with greater “quality assurance” of the paper, according to The News-Star, a newspaper in nearby Monroe, La. Gramblinite editors defied the order and published on Jan. 18.

Gramblinite Editor in Chief Darryl Smith said he was told during a meeting with Dixon on Tuesday that recent stories have cast the university in a negative light, which Dixon was unhappy with and prompted the suspension.

“They’re saying that we have nothing but negative stories in the paper,” Smith said. “To suspend the paper — to stop the one thing the students look for after a long week of classes — that’s absurd.”

Smith said that during the meeting, Dixon said that administrators believe they can suspend the paper’s production based on the 2005 Hosty v. Carter decision. In that decision, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that limited freedom of expression rights applicable to high school newspapers could be extended to college and university campuses.

But the Hosty ruling does not apply to The Gramblinite, as Louisiana is part of the Fifth Circuit.

To enforce the suspension of The Gramblinite, which publishes around 5,000 copies every Thursday, Smith said students are only being allowed in the paper’s facilities when a faculty adviser is present.

Smith said Dixon also justified his suspension of The Gramblinite because students use state-owned equipment to produce the paper.

Courts at both the state and federal level have held that the First Amendment forbids almost all censorship of student-edited college publications, regardless of whether the equipment is owned by the school. In the 1975 case Schiff v. Williams, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recognized strong free press protections for college student newspapers and rejected acts of censorship based on concerns about “quality.”

Smith said the paper would not publish this week to prevent escalating the conflict further. He said he is concerned the administration could fire The Gramblinite’s advisers.

“It’s an issue where we want to fight for the First Amendment, but at the same time we don’t want to see two advisers lose their jobs,” Smith said.

This is not the first time The Gramblinite has encountered problems. In November 2006, the newspaper cancelled its homecoming week coverage after university staff members and student leaders denied reporters access to events.

Smith said he feels the university has violated his rights and has contacted the Student Press Law Center and the National Association of Black Journalists for legal advice.

“We feel that our First Amendment [rights are] being taken away from us — that the freedom of the press is being taken away from us,” Smith said.

Dixon and Peters could not be reached for comment.

By Jared Taylor, SPLC staff writer

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