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College papers face censorship

Without attaching an opinion, the Supreme Court let stand a decision by the Seventh District Court of Appeals involving a student newspaper and Governors State University, a public university in Illinois, last week.

Jeni Porche, Margaret Hosty and Steven Barba sued the dean of student affairs, Patricia Carter, in 2001 after she stopped printing because news stories and editorials were critical of the administration.

The 7-4 decision exempted Carter from the lawsuit, and said because the paper was produced under GSU, they could make the decisions.

The Innovator, which began in 1971, hasn’t published since.

What’s particularly alarming about this case was the reasoning behind the decision. The Court of Appeals used the 1988 Supreme Court decision of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

In this case, the school’s principal had removed two articles from the paper on divorce and teenage pregnancy; because of how younger students might be impacted.

The Supreme Court agreed and said his actions did not violate the students’ rights.

The Supreme Court should’ve heard this case because of differences between high school and college newspapers.

Since high school papers are usually part of the school’s curriculum, administrators have the authority to regulate content.

Many college papers are independent from the universities they represent, so staff decides the content.

The Innovator should’ve been given that right.

In general, administrators have had a “hands off” policy with the editorial decisions of college newspapers.

That can change because of this ruling. It opens the door to censorship of college newspapers.

If administrators at other public universities start deciding what their student newspapers can and cannot publish, everyone loses.

The student newspaper would no longer be a valuable tool to promote and support sound journalistic practices.

Censorship is contrary to what most student publications strive to do – to inform their readers and promote discussion about important issues on and off campus.

Even the threat of censorship changes the way a student newspaper is run – and these challenges must be met.

As the press goes, so does democracy.

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