Our View: Freedom In Danger

AT ISSUE: Governors State University students in court to defend collegiate press freedom.

The freedom of collegiate press is in jeopardy.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Chicago heard arguments in the Hosty v. Carter case, in which school officials at Illinois' Governors State University are pitted against three student journalists.

In 2001, Innovator editor Jeni Porche, managing editor Margaret Hosty and writer Steven Barba sued the university following an October 2000 incident when Patricia Carter, former dean of student affairs, ordered the printer not to publish any issue without administrative approval.

The students allege that administrators violated the First Amendment in an attempt to exercise prior restraint over the school's newspaper, the Innovator.

The university's latest defense is that administrators should be given the right to review the newspaper before publication to correct frequent grammatical and spelling errors.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the school's latest argument could be yet another way for judges to justify censorship of college publications.

"In this way, any story that may draw criticism to a university could be censored if school officials were given the authority to do so as a result of misspelling or poor grammar," Goodman said.

If the appeals court sides with the university, college free press rights in the Midwest will be under fire -- and free speech could be next.

At 34, Hosty is a typical Governors State student -- a university of approximately 9,000 non-traditional students (more than 70 percent women). She is also a former member of the U.S. military.

"[We] are old enough that we don't need someone stepping in to monitor what we're reading," she said, "People who are old enough to be drafted are asked to defend this country's rights, but we are being told they may now no longer be able to enjoy them."

The Supreme Court's landmark 1988 Hazelwood decision, which severely limits the press freedoms of high school students, does not currently apply to college students. This case will determine whether these restrictions can be extended to college media.

They should not. The implications are frightening to college journalists and should be frightening to readers.

If universities win the right to control collegiate press content, everything seen in the college media might have to be approved, sanitized or censored in some way by the very administration often criticized in these publications.

At the collegiate level, when minds should be expanding and academic freedom is paramount, this would be restrictive to the very essence of academic and personal freedom.