ILLINOIS — A U.S. District Court ordered Tuesday that a former student media adviser be returned to his job at Chicago State University following a First Amendment lawsuit surrounding the campus newspaper.
CSU fired Gerian Steven Moore from his position as Tempo adviser in October 2008 after the newspaper published a series of articles critical of the university.
After more than three years of litigation, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that his termination was a First Amendment violation and ordered the university to reinstate Moore to his previous position as executive director for communications or a similar job. Pallmeyer also ordered the university to expunge Moore’s negative employment record.
“I think it was a victory for student press rights,” Moore said. “I trust that people will learn from this episode and understand that the student press has the same rights as the regular press does, and maybe they’ll come to better accommodate those rights in a way that something like this never happens again.”
Moore said he has been unemployed – aside from freelance writing – since his termination because of his negative employment records. With his records expunged and an offer to return to Chicago State on the way, he said he’s pleased with the results. Moore said he plans to accept the university’s job offer, which is required to last at least one year.
CSU General Counsel Patrick Cage said in a press release that the university would comply with the judge’s order. According to Cage, CSU offered Moore his job back in settlement negotiations prior to trial. Cage said he considers the ruling a “win” for the university because it is not required to do anything more than it offered to do before the trial.
Stephen Stern, one of Moore’s attorneys, said he was mostly pleased with the decision — aside from the rulings concerning the second plaintiff, George Providence II.
Providence, former editor in chief of Tempo, asked for an injunction against former administrators’ attempts at censorship and prior review of newspaper content.
Pallmeyer denied his requests on the grounds that the officials in question are no longer employed at Chicago State, and Providence did not prove that their replacements would continue those practices.
Providence voluntarily resigned from his position as editor at the end of the spring 2009 semester because he said his grades were suffering due to the time-consuming job as editor. He decided not to return to CSU the following fall semester and still owes the university about $3,000, according to court documents.
Tempo ceased production in September 2009, after Providence left Chicago State.
Pallmeyer also denied Providence’s request for an order requiring that he be readmitted to the university, that the university revive Tempo and that Providence return as editor of the paper. She wrote that Tempo’s cease in publication was not due to the actions of school administrators, and that the only thing barring Providence’s return to Chicago State is his debt.
“The court finds it more likely that lack of student interest after Providence’s voluntary departure was the reason for Tempo’s lapse,” Pallmeyer wrote.
The judge did, however, recognize that the college violated Province’s First Amendment rights in multiple ways, including demanding prior review of Tempo’s content and ordering that publication of an issue be delayed. The judge simply found that none of the remedies Providence asked for were available.
Tempo under Providence, who was 48 at the time, published several stories critical of the university from spring 2008 to spring 2009. Moore and Providence had an ongoing battle with the university over these stories, which culminated in a story in October 2008 about the misappropriation of university funds.
Moore also worked in the university’s public relations department, and CSU claimed he was fired for poor performance in that capacity and not because of Tempo’s coverage.
Providence said he plans to return to Chicago State once his loans are paid off. He added that he has “every intention” of reviving Tempo. He has not decided if he will appeal the parts of Tuesday’s decision that did not go his way.
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the Student Press Law, said the case represents the first time a court has applied the Illinois College Campus Press Act, which designates all college student media in the state “public forums” free of censorship and prior review.
“I think it’s pretty clear, that, at the college level, the content of a student newspaper isn’t something the adviser has direct control over,” Goldstein said, “so it isn’t something the adviser should be fired for.”