TEXAS — Hours after the student activities department at Baylor University released a statement affirming the institution’s student court did not have the authority to issue “no-contact orders” to students not involved in current proceedings, the judicial board nullified an order it issued to the student newspaper last week.
“It was kind of an affirmation of what we already knew,” said Linda Wilkins, editor in chief of The Baylor Lariat, who received the nullified order Tuesday evening. “It was just kind of ‘OK, the student court understands too where we’re coming from.’”
On Feb. 5, Cody Coll, the student court’s chief justice, gave a no-contact order to members of the student newspaper, which said members of the press could only contact Coll about an ongoing court case. Doing so, the order said, “may result in the party being held in contempt of court.” On Monday, the court amended the order, clarifying that it only applied to reporters who are “subject to the jurisdiction of the court.”
On Feb. 6, Coll told the Student Press Law Center the order fell within his jurisdiction, but he did not know if previous chief justices had issued similar orders to student publications. He declined to comment about the issue on Wednesday.
The order, Wilkins argued, violated the student journalists’ right to free speech by attempting to restrict their communications. On Tuesday, The Lariat published an editorial questioning the order’s validity.
On Tuesday afternoon, Wilkins and City Editor Reubin Turner met with Director of Student Activities Matt Burchett, and asked if Lariat staffers could be punished for violating the order although they are not a party in the lawsuit, which two student senators filed against the Student Senate’s president. Wilkins said Burchett was already planning to release a statement about the issue.
Burchett’s statement, which he released to The Lariat and a local newspaper on Tuesday evening, confirmed the Student Body Constitution gives the student court the authority to recommend disciplinary actions for participants in matters before the court. In this case, that does not include members of The Lariat.
“It is the administration’s understanding that the Lariat is not a party cited in the hearing of McCahill v. Kinghorn and thus is not subject to the press contact limitations imposed by the court on the involved students,” Burchett said in the statement. Because the newspaper is not cited in the case, Burchett said, it is “not subject to the press limitations of the involved parties as noted by the court.”
Although Wilkins acknowledged the situation was a learning experience for members of the newspaper and the court, she said her staff will proceed with its coverage of the lawsuit, “and that means contacting everyone involved in the case.”
“The court has the authority and the jurisdiction to designate a single spokesperson, and I’m going to assume the single spokesperson will be Cody Coll,” Wilkins said. “But when we contact the justices on the court and the parties involved in the case, they can refer us to him, so we will continue reporting as we normally would.”
Contact SPLC staff writer Mark Keierleber by email or at (202) 833-4614.