TEXAS — The long-standing prior review policy at the University of Texas at Austin has been scrapped after the Texas Student Media Board voted March 2 to end the more than three-decades old practice, but the policy will stand in place temporarily until the board can purchase libel insurance.
The media board’s unanimous decision was made possible last month when the Texas Board of Regents voted to relinquish its oversight of student media and allow the publications board to dictate procedure. As part of the transition, the publications board revised the student media policy, which for the first time since 1971 will not mandate prior review of the newspaper, The Daily Texan.
“Plenty of Texan managing editors and editors have been pushing for this for decades,” said senior A.J. Bauer, president of the media board and a former Texan editor in chief. “I’m glad to see it.”
Under the prior review policy, an adviser reviewed the newspaper each night before it was sent to the printers. Now, according to the new policy, the adviser will have a more indirect role, counseling students throughout the day to ensure student staff can identity and avoid hazards such as libel and privacy invasion.
The board did not vote on a specific date for the transition to occur, and there was some dispute when the new policy should take effect. Kathy Lawrence, who as director of student media implements the board’s decisions, said there was an informal agreement to wait until the board purchases libel insurance.
Some at the meeting proposed putting the new policy into effect immediately, while others suggested waiting until June 1 when the next editor takes over, said Bauer, who in summer 2006 worked as an intern for the Student Press Law Center.
Lawrence was unsure when the libel insurance would be secured. She said she has been working with the university’s office of risk management to find a provider for the insurance, which she estimated could cost $12,000 to $18,000 for all student media at the university.
The disagreement over when the new adviser policy will be put into effect is just one of several uncertainties the media board faces during the transition from university oversight. For example, the break from the university includes the separation of some business operations, while others remain under the regents’ purview.
Also, Lawrence said, the media board’s attorney has offered a different interpretation of details of the regents’ decision to resign oversight last month, so Lawrence is making an effort to settle the disparities.
“I’ve sent a lot of questions to the UT administration and through UT legal, and I’ve gotten some responses,” she said.
If left unresolved, the ambiguities could complicate the media board meeting on March 30 at which the new student media policy book will be reviewed. But Lawrence said that she is confident the uncertainties will be resolved and that she does not foresee long-term problems with the new structure of University of Texas student media.
“They’re all resolvable,” she said. “That’s not a ‘probably.’ It’s just we need a little direction how to implement it and when to implement it.”
By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer