The law, co-sponsored by state Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and state Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, amends the Tennessee Open Records Act to force public colleges and universities to disclose three categories of student disciplinary records.
Each year, student journalists fight college administrators over the right to publish student newspapers free from censorship.
The confidentiality agreement asks officers to refuse to discuss or disseminate “all records related to University business or University personnel, whether received, disseminated, generated, or maintained by the Department …” Among the records officers are not to release are incident reports and personnel rosters, the agreement states.
The nation’s largest association of student judicial administrators voted in March to protect students’ First Amendment rights to free speech as three universities this spring adopted new student speech policies intended to loosen restrictions on what students can say and where they can say it.
Felicia is a student journalist at a public university. She is writing an article about crime on her campus and is interested in researching an armed robbery that occurred at her school last fall.
Ricky Thomas and James Wickett were denied funding for The Beacon OU, their newspaper that provides ''news from or with a Christian perspective,'' because a school policy prohibited the use of student fees for ''religious services.'' The students claim the policy was enforced when the student government, which allocates student fees, considered their request for funding.
If you are a student journalist at a private college or university and want access to campus police records beyond basic log information, you must first determine if the campus police have law enforcement authority. If so, the campus police might be subject to your state’s open-records law. Each state’s open-records law is different, so you must research the relationship between your campus police and state law.
In the past five years, more than 120 college student newspaper thefts have been reported to the Student Press Law Center.
A Monongalia County jury in February ordered West Virginia University to pay $868,000 in damages for retaliating against three campus police officers who tried to report the school for allegedly falsifying campus crime statistics.
When free student newspapers are stolen on university campuses, campus and city police often do not believe it is a crime because they say there is no law under which to prosecute the theft. This spring, six student newspapers experienced that questionable line of thinking first hand.