Newspaper editor, former adviser challenge censorship, termination with lawsuit

ILLINOIS — An Illinois college newspaper editor and hispaper’s former adviser have filed suit against members of the collegeadministration in Illinois district court, demanding the adviser’sreinstatement and an end to threats of censorship and budget cuts.

George Providence II, Chicago State University sophomore and editor of theTempo, and former adviser Gerian Steven Moore allege that since thepaper’s reestablishment in March 2008, university officials have pressuredMoore to censor Tempo‘s content and have chastised Providence forpublishing pieces critical of CSU.

Tensions came to a head last fall following a controversial Tempostory regarding potential misuse of university funds. A clash between thepaper and Patricia Arnold, executive director of university relations at CSU,ensued.

“If it had somehow gotten out that the money was obtained inviolation of university regulations, it would have been embarrassing for theuniversity,” Moore said. “I informed [Arnold] that if they chose topursue that story, there was nothing I could do. They had the right to explorewhere the funding came from. Not long after that, I was told that I could nolonger serve as adviser to the paper.”

The funds in question were used by a student group on campus to put on a”pretty elaborate” event which ran up a bill that was”considerably more than they had in their budget,” according toMoore. Some estimated the show’s cost at more than $22,000, while thegroup’s total budget was barely more than $1,000, Moore said.

Following Tempo‘s investigation into suspected fundingirregularities, Arnold insisted to Moore that he and his advisory board staffreview the paper before print, according to the complaint filed by Moore andProvidence. Moore forwarded the message on to Providence, who refused to comply,stating the demand constituted unconstitutional prior review. Shortly after,Interim President Frank Pogue, the other defendant named in the lawsuit,terminated Moore from his position.

According to the complaint, Arnold also then sent multiple e-mails toProvidence questioning his motivation and suggesting he had a responsibility toreport more favorably about the university.

“As the voice of the students, has Tempo reflected them in a positivelight? Is its reputation built on empowering or denigrating members of the CSUfamily? Has Tempo given the students a good return on their financialinvestment? Those are three questions I’d like to ask. Rhetorically, ofcourse,” Arnold said in a Dec. 2008 e-mail to Providence.

While he is aware the university equates school funding with aresponsibility to report in a way that “uplifts the CSU community,”Providence said, he does not agree that loyalty trumps free and independentjournalism.

“I don’t view Tempo‘s role as trying to put peopleout on Front Street, ruining their reputation,” Providence said.

“But from my standpoint, a student newspaper does at least two things:Reflect honestly the university it is a part of … and be in the business ofholding the administration accountable.”

In addition to Arnold’s attempts to impose administrative oversighton the Tempo‘s content, Providence said his other grievance is overwithheld information about the paper’s budget. According to Providence,university officials will not disclose to him the costs related thepaper’s production, trainings, conferences, and other expenses.Additionally, Providence is not privy to where his paper’s funding comesfrom or how much is immediately available for his use.

“All of that fundamental information has basically been denied tous,” he said. “I kind of viewed it as another way of controlling thenewspaper. If we don’t know how much we have, we don’t know how muchwe can do. They do keep paying the bills, but we’re operating in theblind.”

According to Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press LawCenter, deliberate withholding of information necessary for thenewspaper’s general operation could constitute a violation of free presslaw.

“If he’s asking and they’re not telling him, it does setup a censorship question,” Goldstein said. “It could be part of apattern of attempts to control [the paper].”

To Providence and Moore, control is exactly what CSU administration islooking for.

“The idea is that you protect the image of the president and theimage of the university,” Moore said. “I would hear from colleagues, ‘you can’t just let those students write whatever theywant.'”

Moore and Providence filed suit the Northern District of Illinois Feb 3.Relief is sought under both the First Amendment and the Illinois College CampusPress Act, which protects Illinois college newspapers from censorship and priorreview by campus officials. The Illinois College Campus Press Act also prohibitsa collegiate media adviser from being terminated or otherwise disciplined forrefusing to suppress protected free expression rights of studentjournalists.

Arnold and Pogue declined comment due to pending litigation.