ILLINOIS — The U.S. District Court in Chicago dismissed a suit Sept. 11 filed by two former student journalists who claimed administrators at Governors State University deliberately impeded their ability to publish the campus newspaper, the Phoenix, and violated their First Amendment rights.
Former Editor in Chief Stephanie Blahut and former copy editor and business director David Chambers alleged that administrators purposefully restricted their access to the newsroom, refused to process orders for new equipment, reduced the newspaper’s funding approved by the student government and withheld their pay, resulting in a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Blahut saw the actions as an obvious attempt at censorship.
“Withholding of our funding is a form of trying to control our content and trying to control our newspaper,” she said.
In the suit, the former students sought an injunction preventing administrators from interfering with their ability to publish the paper. But because the students’ complaint did not ask for damages and neither student currently works at the paper, Judge Robert W. Gettleman ruled that the two lacked standing to bring the suit.
Chambers said he was disappointed with the outcome.
“We’re disgusted and dismayed that we couldn’t show that Governors State did what they did,” he said. “They’re going to continue doing what they’re doing.”
The two filed the suit without legal representation after they could not find a lawyer to take the case pro bono.
“I think it would have made a huge difference because then the truth would have come out and the university administration would have had to admit their wrongdoing,” Chambers said.
The two filed their case just two days after the Supreme Court declined to hear Hosty v. Carter, a case in which three student staff members of Governors State University’s former campus paper, the Innovator, sued administrators for requiring prior review of the paper. The students appealed their case to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but lost when the court ruled that the standards established by the 1988 Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier — which permitted prior review for high school publications — could be applied to university and college publications.
Though Chamber’s and Blahut’s suit was unrelated to the Hosty case, Blahut said she thinks riding on the coattails of that case might have hurt their chances of recruiting legal counsel.
“After the Hosty case … a lot of attorneys saw our case as a lost cause,” she said.
Blahut said they might appeal the case if they can get a lawyer. The two also are considering filing an action against administrators in state court for withholding their wages.
A university spokeswoman said the school had no comment on the case.
For More Information:
Case: Blahut v. Oden, No. 05-4989,2007 WL 2740849 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 11, 2007).