The last time I wrote about Hosty v. Carter I sounded an alarm: "Hazelwood is now inside the gates." Hazelwood is the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave high school principals the authority to censor student publications produced at school. Journalism educators found Hazelwood obnoxious but consoled themselves that at least the court hadn't given college administrators the same authority. Hosty said, "Think again."
In a 2005 ruling the full Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the suit brought by graduate student-editors Jeni Porche and Margaret Hosty at Governors State University, who accused GSU's dean of student life of unconstitutionally running the school paper out of business. Appellate Judge Frank Easterbrook's opinion, laced with condescension toward campus papers, found that "Hazelwood's framework is generally applicable," and that the law was so murky the dean of student life shouldn't be held liable even if she got it wrong. The Supreme Court declined to review the appellate court's decision.
Last month State Senator Susan Garrett, a Highwood Democrat, introduced a bill to clarify the law in Illinois. Her bill would define all campus media at state colleges and universities as "public forums...not subject to prior review by public officials of those institutions." The contents would be the responsibility of student editors. And to guard against backdoor censorship, "a collegiate media adviser must not be terminated, transferred, removed, otherwise disciplined, or retaliated against for refusing to suppress protected free expression rights of collegiate student journalists and of collegiate student editors."
The Society of Professional Journalists has just announced its support for Garrett's bill (cosponsored by Republican senators Dale Righter of Mattoon and Bill Brady of Bloomington). "Get this," says SPJ president Christine Tatum on her blog. "Legislators speaking on background say they're being lobbied to vote the bill down by representatives of 'big universities.' Fancy that! 'Big universities' that obviously don't appreciate a free press." SPJ is encouraging its members to write Garrett declaring their support. "Illinois has a chance to become a leader in collegiate student press rights with the passage of this bill," says a letter that has already been written for the membership, whose support for Garrett might impress the senate more if everybody writes their own letter.
Click here for what the Student Press Law Center has to say about Hosty, with further links.