Student Media Need Freedom of Press

Rambler Staff Editorial

What would you think if you heard about a student newspaper that had to check with its school’s administration before running controversial articles? What would you think if that same administration called a meeting after an event in order to discuss what student organizations and publications were and were not allowed to talk about? Would you think censorship?

This exact scenario took place recently at Georgetown College, only 30 minutes away from Transylvania. However, according to the college’s definition, what happened would not qualify as censorship.

Allegations of censorship arose after the back page editor of The Georgtonian, Perry Dixon, attempted to publish an opinion piece regarding an incident in which members of a certain fraternity on Georgetown’s campus allegedly used racial slurs against a member of another fraternity.

After reading Dixon’s piece, Editor-in-Chief Tori Bachman-Johnson reported that she asked Dixon to remove references to the accused fraternity from his piece. She said, however, that this decision came only after the president of Georgetown College, Dr. William H. Crouch Jr., told her to remove the references. Dixon, instead, decided to run a practically blank back page in protest.

“(At Georgetown) the college’s president and the provost are, as the publishers of The Georgetonian, protected by the First Amendment,” said Bachman-Johnson. “However, freedom of the press is not extended to those who write for The Georgetonian. This policy, according to the law, is not censorship.”

This policy, though, discounts the fact that censorship comes in many forms. While Georgetown’s administration claims that they have never censored the college’s student publications, and while its policy of not extending First Amendment rights to staff writers of The Georgetonian is not technically illegal at a private institution, it is censorship.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center, agreed, saying about the incident, “Definitely censorship.” He further commented that any action motivated by a desire to control content is censorship. Quite clearly, the preliminary meeting called by Georgetown’s administration was an attempt to control the content of the campus’ student publications.

Though Transylvania, like Georgetown, is a private institution, we are extraordinarily lucky to have a student handbook that embraces the freedom of student media.
Our student handbook states, “Student-directed publications that are published under the auspices of the university and/or are funded by the university shall be free of censorship.”

Luckily, this clause protects students involved in campus media from experiencing the kinds of situations faced at Georgetown.

While The Rambler, in particular, operates fairly freely, we have at times encountered pressure from various factions on campus to avoid running particular pieces or to avoid certain topics altogether. It is this sort of pressure that, if we are not careful, could lead to the embracing of the kind of censorship practiced at Georgetown.
If we as a student body and campus community wish to maintain our fortunate freedom of campus media, we must collectively support and embrace the rights of students to practice free journalism and free speech within their legal limitations. This includes printing stories that push boundaries and allowing students to publish opinions that may not always be favorable to everyone.

People love the First Amendment until it hurts their feelings. Instead of calling into question the legitimacy of student media for publishing controversial topics, we must, as a campus that embraces the First Amendment, use it as a forum to discuss all sides of an issue.

Our advice to Georgetown and any other private collegiate institution that does not extend full freedom of the press to its student journalists would be to embrace Transylvania’s model. While we understand the desire to maintain the dignity of your institution and honor a religious affiliation, administrators at any such college or university should trust their student journalists to let facts speak for themselves. You will only build the reputation of your institution by embracing the First Amendment and extending full freedom to your student media.

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