TEXAS — The Texas Board of Regents approved a new agreement Feb. 8 with the University of Texas at Austin student publications board, moving one step closer to abolishing a decades-old prior review policy for The Daily Texan.
The regents voted unanimously to scrap the previous agreement, which since 1971 had declared the university liable for the publications content and thus required an appointed editorial adviser to have final say on student newspaper content at the university. The regents’ new agreement assigns responsibility for The Daily Texan’s content to the media board, although the regents will retain control of student publication assets.
While the new arrangement itself does not specifically bar prior review, it gives the Texas Student Media Board of Directors the prerogative of whether to continue the policy. During the next few months the publications board will draft a new procedural handbook and determine whether to include a prior review policy, said Kathy Lawrence, director of student media.
JJ Hermes, editor in chief of The Daily Texan, said the board of regents opened the door for ending prior review, but it is up to the publications board to walk through that door.
Hermes said he was cautiously optimistic that the board will vote against implementing a prior review policy, especially because the 11-member board comprises six students, most of whom he said are opposed prior review.
“It’s a student majority board, so if one student wants to be the fish that swims in the other direction, more power to them,” he said. “But I would hope students would want to run with students.”
The board will discuss the issue in March, and Hermes said he anticipates a vote in April.
If the board votes to eliminate prior review, the role of the newspaper’s adviser will change, Lawrence said. The adviser, who previously read copy at the end of the night, would offer counsel throughout the day to ensure students themselves can identify and avoid journalistic landmines such as libel, invasion of privacy and copyright violation.
“I think [the students] will get a lot more benefit from their adviser,” Lawrence said. “The adviser will interact with more of the students and will be available, as I said, throughout the news cycle as opposed to the end.”
The University of Texas at Austin is one of the last major universities in the country to have a prior review policy. Hermes said that abolishing it would be a victory for college media rights, which he said often are frustratingly unspecific.
“The legal framework [of collegiate press rights], it seems to me, is still a little hazy, and it shouldn’t be hazy,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer.”
By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer