Independent Florida Alligator proposes compromise in newspaper distribution lawsuit

FLORIDA — The University of Florida’s independent student newspaper has suggested a settlement that could end its lawsuit against the university about a proposed policy that would give the school control of newspaper racks on campus.

Under the compromise proposed by The Independent Florida Alligator board of directors, 24 of the paper’s bright orange distribution boxes will be replaced by the university’s uniform black, modular racks. The paper can keep its existing boxes for the nearly 40 other distribution boxes on campus and will not have to pay a fee to use the university’s boxes.

The university originally planned to charge the paper $100 per year per space in a rack, with a $300 credit offered for each newspaper box that was replaced. The fee was eventually waived in early August, but the paper filed suit in state court over remaining concerns about the licensing agreement required by the school to use the boxes.

The process for getting and retaining the license did not detail how the university would approve or deny license requests and required the Alligator and other news organizations to reapply each year.

Tom Julin, an attorney representing the Alligator, said that the proposed compromise clarifies the licensing process. The university now has a 10-day period where every license application must be approved or denied based on objective requirements. Licenses automatically renew each year. In addition, the compromise establishes a process for the revocation and appeal of licenses.

The compromise comes more than a year and a half after the university first proposed replacing the Alligator’s boxes, citing both safety and aesthetic concerns.

In July of this year, the university informed the paper that 19 of the boxes would be removed by mid-August. The Alligator filed its lawsuit on Aug. 9 to stop the removal of the boxes.

The agreement still must be approved by the school’s board of trustees, whose committee on educational policy and strategy discussed the issue Monday. Janine Sikes, the university’s director of public affairs, said that she expects it to be approved at the full board’s meeting next week.

“We’re delighted to have been able to reach agreement,” Sikes said. “It was always our goal from the beginning. We’re delighted to move past this.”

Julin said that the Alligator is optimistic about the compromise but still plans to monitor the paper’s distribution rate for any negative impact caused by the new racks.

“The settlement is one that’s not perfect by any means,” Julin said “It’s got aspects that we don’t like, and we’re not certain what the impact will be on the distribution of the paper.

“If there seems to be a negative impact, it’s something we may consider and take back to the board of trustees,” Julin said.

By Jordan Bradley, SPLC staff writer. Contact Bradley by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.