07/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Utah Student Journalists May Not Graduate After Paper Gag

The records of nine graduating seniors at the University of Utah are being held by the college after it determined their roles in a newspaper prank violated the school's code of student responsibilities.

The students, all staffers at the Daily Utah Chronicle (part of HuffPost College's campus newspaper network), wrote farewell columns for the paper that when arranged on the page spelled out "C*NT" and "PENIS."

According to an interview with outgoing Chronicle Editor Rachel Hanson in the Salt Lake City Weekly, the gag is a years-long tradition, and this is the first time the university has said anything:

"I'm kind of flabbergasted," Hanson said. "I don't think they've done this to the Chronicle before. This is a new, extreme step they've taken. I don't know if they intend to scare us ... or really keep us from graduating."

"No one's every noticed before, or cared," Hanson said. This year the gag was posted to the popular FailBlog, then bounced between Utah Twitter and Facebook users after City Weekly blogged about it also.

The students were each e-mailed by the dean and ordered to schedule a meeting. Hanson told the Student Press Law Center that she and the other offending students will "be able to walk" in graduation, but their diplomas and transcripts will most likely not be processed, at least right away.

SPLC attorney advocate Adam Goldstein says putting a hold on the students' diplomas and/or transcripts is "a complete violation of [their] First Amendment rights."

"That the administration doesn't find this tradition funny doesn't give them the right to punish what is, at its core, speech. The entire purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the right to offend people. Sometimes you offend King George by calling him unfair, and sometimes you offend your dean by naming body parts," said Goldstein.

For more pictures of the newspaper in question, see here.

What do you think? Is the school being too extreme? Or do the students deserve to suffer consequences?