Schiff v. Williams

519 F.2d 257 (5th Cir. 1975)

In April of 1973, the president of Florida Atlantic University dismissed the editor-in-chief and two associate editors of the student newspaper, the Atlantic Sun, and instead published the newspaper with administrative personnel. The president’s reasoning for his actions was that the level of competency and responsibility had deteriorated to the point that the newspaper was an embarrassment to the university.

The three student editors sued the president and his successor, alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated by the dismissals and asked for injunctive relief. In April 1975, the district court ruled in favor of the students. The university appealed, and in September 1975, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the students, saying that a public university could not control content of a student publication except under special circumstances. The court found that the president’s disagreements over the content and quality of the newspaper did not constitute a special circumstance because if those faults were correct, they do not lead to a significant disruption of the educational process. The court prohibited the president from any further control of the newspaper, and ordered that the student editors be reinstated and awarded back pay.