LOUISIANA — Grambling State University administrators permitted The Gramblinite to resume operations Thursday, but only on the condition that all material must be edited by a faculty adviser prior to publication, a practice that is clearly unconstitutional, editors and advocates say.
Provost Robert Dixon suspended the student newspaper from publication on Jan. 17 and closed its operations on Wednesday, citing “quality assurance” problems. About 24 hours later, student staff members met with administrators to address the complaints and were told they could print a four-page special edition today, but no adviser was available to review its release, said Gramblinite Editor in Chief Darryl Smith.
Smith said the new policy mandates prior review by faculty Publication Director Wanda Peters of all content, which infringes on students’ First Amendment rights.
“That pretty much means she can control the content that goes in the paper,” Smith said.
In addition to prior review, other measures agreed upon by students and administrators include new faculty adviser-implemented consequences for reporters who miss deadlines, requiring students to pass style and grammar tests to work as an editor and requiring journalism faculty to submit students’ best work for publication in The Gramblinite. An advisory committee of mass communication department faculty and staff has also been appointed to work with the newspaper.
College Media Advisers Inc., a national organization of student media advisers, issued a statement today criticizing Grambling State administrators for the new prior review policy.
“We condemn their desire to circumvent the First Amendment rights of their students,” according to the release. “No faculty or staff adviser to the publication should be asked to engage in such censorship or be held responsible for the content decisions student reporters and editors are legally authorized to make.”
Student Press Law Center Executive Director Mark Goodman said the new review policy is “clearly unconstitutional.”
“University officials may say that it’s only to catch grammar and spelling mistakes, but before you know it the unlucky employee forced into this position will be editing things out that reflect the university or its administration in a less than positive light,” Goodman said. “That’s the end of journalism and the beginning of propaganda.”
The Society of Professional Journalists also denounced Grambling State administrators.
“I’m so tired of educators going on about how academically rigorous, accepting, community-oriented, student-focused and marketplace-of-ideas-honoring their institutions are — only to see them turn around and censor student publications,” said SPJ President Christine Tatum, an assistant business editor at The Denver Post. “Unfortunately, this happens all the time. Students should, regardless of their academic interests, consider an institution’s commitment to free speech before deciding whether to attend.”
Smith said he and other Gramblinite staff members attempted to lobby their complaints about the new policy to the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors today, but because the issue was not on its meeting agenda, the board would not let them speak. He said he and his staff members would draft a letter asking the supervisors to address the matter.
If the board upholds the prior review policy, Smith said he would pursue further legal counsel.
“We need them to hear from us before we pursue legal action,” Smith said.
Grambling State spokesman Ralph Wilson could not be reached for comment.
By Jared Taylor, SPLC staff writer