While Quinnipiac University Attacks the Student Press, University of Oklahoma Does the Right Thing
Earlier this month, I posted about the crazy trend on college campuses to ban political speech by students and faculty during this exciting election cycle.
Since the fall semester kicked off, colleges across the country have banned everything from window signs to bumper stickers, squelching all political expression on campus in a misguided attempt to protect their schools' non-profit status.
One of the worst examples of this kind of blanket censorship occurred at the University of Oklahoma ("OU"), where students were informed by the administration that they could not use their college e-mail addresses to forward "political humor/commentary." Obviously, OU's ban on sending along your favorite Daily Show clips or HuffPo articles was wildly overbroad.
Thankfully, earlier this week, OU backed down from this unconstitutional policy in no uncertain terms. The university president, David L. Boren, wrote the entire university community to announce that the ban on political e-mails "is hereby rescinded and withdrawn." Boren went on to say that "individual free speech by all members of the university community is fully protected. The earlier email was intended to remind all of us that no one should presume to speak on behalf of the university in a way that would imply that the university, as an institution, is supporting a political candidate, party or cause. This, however, does not limit the right of anyone to express individual views."
Boren's correction gets it right and mirrors the guidance my organization (FIRE) sent OU on September 26th. It is rare that one sees college presidents flatly and publicly reverse themselves, even when they've been caught violating the First Amendment rights of their students, so President Boren should be commended for clarifying this murky policy.
But while students at OU are free once more to forward each other as many Wonkette entries as their outboxes can process, all is not rosy in the world of collegiate free speech. (It never is, sadly).
As the election draws ever closer, reports of schools banning political speech are still streaming in from all corners of the country ― not to mention the usual censorship madness. Nevertheless, this week the Worst Censorship on a College Campus award belongs to Quinnipiac University.
"The ordeal for the QU student press began in spring 2007, when QU prohibited the student editors of the Quinnipiac Chronicle from publishing news online prior to the same news appearing in print. QU President John Lahey defended this prior restraint by saying he wanted to be able to read the news in print 'before the external world hears about it.' After then-Chronicle editor-in-chief Jason Braff challenged the policy, Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell stated that 'student leaders, especially those in paid positions, are expected to generally be supportive of university policies.'
When QU went so far as to take control over the selection of this year's Chronicle staff in an effort to better control the paper, the paper's editors and applicants abandoned the Chronicle and founded an independent online news source, the Quad News, which began publishing this semester.
Yet driving nearly the entire staff of a student newspaper to work off-campus was not enough for QU administrators. Earlier this semester, students in QU's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and student members of the Quad News jointly participated in activities held on campus. On September 8, in response to these interactions, Daniel W. Brown, Director of QU's Student Center and Student Leadership Development, wrote to Jaclyn Hirsch, who is both SPJ president and managing editor of the Quad News. Brown's letter stated that 'any further interaction or endorsements with The QUAD News [sic] could result in the Quinnipiac University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists losing its recognition status.' While QU's 2008 -2009 Student Handbook states that independent organizations such as the Quad News may not 'operate on campus,' Brown's letter bans 'interaction' altogether."
This kind of aggressive suppression of the press is more reminiscent of the old Eastern Bloc than Hamden, Connecticut, and certainly bad form for a liberal arts college. Thankfully, the New York Times wrote a condemnation yesterday of the QU reign of repression, and the school is rightfully taking a battering from defenders of the student press across the country. My thinking is, if Quinnipiac is going to show such contempt for its own student journalists, journalists around the country should start ignoring its polls. There are plenty of polls to go around, but not nearly enough respect for good ol' campus free speech this season.