Oregon State removes independent student newspaper's distribution bins from campus locations

OREGON — The staff of an independent publication at OregonState University says they are being censored by not being permitted todistribute across campus.

Will Rogers, executive editor of the Liberty, said campus officialsremoved the paper’s distribution bins during the winter 2009 term withoutwarning, damaging some of them. Officials later told Rogers his staff does nothave the same distribution rights as the Daily Barometer,OSU’s official campus paper.

“Basically, the school is setting up a state-sponsored form ofcommunication that if you don’t play by their rules then you’re notallowed to distribute the message, which is censorship,” Rogers said.

“They’re stifling our ability to communicate.”

Rogers said he believes they should have equal rights to distribute theirwork; the Liberty is published by OSU Students Alliance, a recognizedstudent organization. OSU Student Alliance was founded as a publishing group bystudents who originally posted their articles online before launching theLiberty print edition in 2002 with private funding.

The conservative publication received a handful of bins from localbusinesses to place around campus. But earlier this year, the bins weregone.

Rogers said a former editor called the Oregon State Police to file areport. That led them to the university’s Facilities ServicesDepartment.

According to e-mails in late April and early May between Rogers and JoeMajeski, a Facilities Services employee, university officials removed the bins — which involved cutting locks and chains for some — and storedthem near a dumpster.

When Rogers retrieved them, he said some had been damaged. He noted theuniversity gave Liberty editors in 2006 permission to place eight bins oncampus. After one was stolen, the paper’s staff chained the rest inplace.

A collection of e-mails between Rogers and university employees show thedispute is centered on Liberty not being the campus’ officialpaper. Several officials noted the Daily Barometer has been publishingfor over 100 years. Officials also claimed they were controlling distribution tokeep campus attractive for visiting parents.

None of the Daily Barometer‘s bins were removed.

With photos, Rogers documented a number of instances afterLiberty‘s bins were confiscated where campus officials had leftother “off-campus” bins in place with some — including aDaily Barometer bin — chained to university property. Officialstold Rogers both were reasons for removing his bins.

In the most recent issue, the Liberty ran a photo of the poorlyhandled bins on its front page. The word “CENSORSHIP” covered thepaper’s name.

OSU Spokesman Todd Simmons said the university has a distribution policyfor any publications that are not the Daily Barometer. Simmons didnot have a copy of the policy, but said bins were removed to allow formaintenance access and foot traffic.

Charles Fletcher, the university’s associate general counsel, said inan e-mail to Rogers that OSU does not need a policy to removeLiberty‘s bins.

“There is no specific written policy that governs the placement ofpublication bins, and none is required,” Fletcher wrote.

Simmons said he does not feel the university’s actions fall undercensorship.

“[The Liberty] is certainly readily available here,” hesaid. “There’s been no effort on behalf of the university or anyoneconnected with the university to control their content or direct them what towrite or what not to write.”

But Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center,said it could be censorship if officials removed the bins because of theLiberty‘s content.

“Unless there is some legitimate government interest here — like safety or traffic concerns — the action would be illegal whether ornot it’s directed at the content of the publication,” headded.

Goldstein also noted the university cannot favor their on-campus studentpaper over off-campus publications.

“What the law requires is that all publications be given a form ofdistribution that reaches the same potential audience,” he said.

The Liberty currently has four on-campus bins — two on theinside and two on the outside of the school’s memorial union, which isowned by the Associated Students of Oregon State University.

The Daily Barometer distributes to 124 locations on and around theOSU campus, an employee said. Aside from five main on-campus bins, they deliverbundles to most campus buildings and locations in the community.

Rogers said he wants the same treatment as the Liberty, adding hehopes all seven of their bins can be back on campus soon. He added that, inprinciple, they want equal prominence on campus.

“This doesn’t look like the university wants to playfair,” Rogers said. “We just want, given that it’s a publicuniversity, to have them follow the same rules that are set forth by theConstitution.”