BY HANK REICHMAN
Today, the AAUP, the College Media Association (CMA), the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) released a report, Threats to the Independence of Student Media, shining a light on threats to student media and faculty and staff advisers. The report reaffirms and expands upon basic principles of a free student press and academic freedom as articulated in the 1967 Joint Statement on the Rights and Freedoms of Students.
The report cites multiple cases in which college and university administrations exerted pressure in attempts to control, edit, or censor student journalistic content and to threaten the academic freedom of faculty advisers. This pressure has been reported in every segment of higher education and every institutional type: public and private, four-year and two-year, religious and secular. The report finds that administrative efforts to subordinate campus journalism to public relations concerns are inconsistent with the mission of higher education to foster intellectual exploration and debate. And while journalism that discusses students’ dissatisfaction with the perceived shortcomings of their institutions can be uncomfortable, it fulfills an important civic function.
A student discusses one of the reported cases and thanks her faculty advisers here:
The 1967 Joint Statement declared:
Student publications and the student press are valuable aids in establishing and maintaining an atmosphere of free and responsible discussion and of intellectual exploration on the campus. They are a means of bringing student concerns to the attention of the faculty and the institutional authorities and of formulating student opinion on various issues on the campus and in the world at large. Whenever possible the student newspaper should be an independent corporation financially and legally separate from the college or university. Where financial and legal autonomy is not possible, the institution, as the publisher of student publications, may have to bear the legal responsibility for the contents of the publications. In the delegation of editorial responsibility to students, the institution must provide sufficient editorial freedom and financial autonomy for the student publications to maintain their integrity of purpose as vehicles for free inquiry and free expression in an academic community.
The report released today was prepared by a subcommittee of representatives of the four organizations and was approved by AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure in October and by the AAUP national Council last month. The AAUP has long been concerned with the general atmosphere for free expression, including freedom of the press, on campuses and we were pleased to join with the leading voices in collegiate journalism to speak out on this issue. The association’s special concern was with the status and experiences of faculty and staff advisers. Faculty members who assist student journalists are, as the report stresses, “above all else, educators who seek to train young journalists in the practice of ethical, thorough journalism.” Hence, “an administrator who demands control of student media content is akin to a college or university official who dictates the content of a student essay.”
The report concludes:
Students learn by doing: by reporting and writing, by photographing, or by making video or audio recordings. They should be in charge of editing, designing, managing, and leading their organizations, for this is the essence of experiential learning. The College Media Association Code of Ethics therefore mandates that advisers must always “defend and teach without censoring.” Regardless of the type of institution or adviser, the Code asserts, “There should never be an instance where an adviser maximizes quality by minimizing learning. Student media should always consist of student work.”
Speaking about the report, Frank LoMonte, executive director of SPLC, said, “It is hypocritical for colleges to claim they support civic engagement while defunding student news organizations, removing well-qualified faculty advisers, and otherwise intimidating journalists into compliance. Colleges are more obsessed with promoting a favorable public image than ever before, but a college that retaliates against students and faculty for unflattering journalism doesn’t just look bad—it is bad. We need a top-level commitment from the presidents of America’s colleges and universities to support editorially independent student-run news coverage, including secure funding and retaliation protection for students and their advisers.”
Kelley Lash, president of CMA, said, “This issue impacts millions of educators and students. College Media Association emphatically supports the First Amendment freedoms of all student media at all institutions, both public and private, and agrees that these media must be free from all forms of external interference designed to influence content. Student media participants, and their advisers, should not be threatened or punished due to the content of the student media. Their rights of free speech and free press must always be guaranteed.”
To access the full report go to: http://www.aaup.org/student-media