SPLC intervention spurred the University of Mary Washington to restore student newspaper funding

On April 27, 2018, The Blue and Gray Press at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia learned that their request for funding of $13,666 had been declined, and they would be receiving just $100 for “office supplies” for the next year.

With this cut, the print version of The Press would have to end. Staff of The Press were given a variety of reasons for the cut, including distribution methods, budgetary restrictions and even environmental concerns about paper waste. Additionally, Editor-in-Chief Lauren Closs was privately told by the Student Government Association president that certain articles had upset members of the student government who voted to cut their budget.

Staff from The Press contacted the Student Press Law Center’s Senior Legal Counsel Mike Hiestand, who said defunding The Blue and Gray Press because of its content would be illegal. The SPLC published an article widely shared on social media about the funding cut on May 16, 2018, including Hiestand’s comments. Hiestand also wrote a letter outlining the legal boundaries and past court rulings. The letter was sent to Closs on May 17 to distribute to students and administrators and use when negotiating the budget. Local press coverage also helped to highlight the situation.

Closs met with the finance committee and worked out a plan to address concerns about distribution. On May 25, 2018, Closs learned that the full printing budget had been restored.

“The SPLC helped me and my editorial staff to understand the illegality of the situation and the rights we have as student journalists,” Closs said in an email. “Mike Hiestand’s advice was invaluable during the entire process and I am thankful to him and the SPLC for giving me the knowledge and the support I needed to fight this violation of our First Amendment rights.”

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