Legislation to be announced today would expressly prohibit any move by California university or community college administrators to stifle student newspapers, after a memo surfaced in which an attorney for California State University indicated a recent Chicago court ruling may have opened the door to some forms of censorship.
The bill, authored by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, specifically extends existing freedom of expression protections to the press and prohibits administrators, as well as university and community college governing boards, from exerting editorial control, said Jim Ewert, attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a sponsor of the bill.
“This bill gives college newspapers the ability to print what they think is important without any coercion or manipulation,” Yee said. “The oversight function is impaired when you have the fox [the school administration] guarding the hen house.”
While San Francisco State University’s newspaper, the “Golden Gate Xpress,” shouldn’t be affected because it is entirely student-run, Journalism Department Chairman John Burks said he supports the bill. “I suppose it is conceivable that the administration could censor us, cut off funding or not offer the class,” Burks said, adding that the university administration generally supports the program.
Max Golding, editor-in-chief of “The San Matean” at the College of San Mateo, called Yee’s proposed legislation “important from a journalist perspective,” but also because of its broader impact on First Amendment rights. Student writers and editors at “The San Matean,” as is the case with many student-run papers, are free to seek advice from advisers but ultimately decided for themselves what goes in the paper, CSM journalism adviser Ed Remitz said.
The California State University memo, written by General Counsel Christine Helwick, is based on a 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision that was handed down in June, upholding the required preapproval of newspaper stories by university officials at Governors State University.
The university’s administration imposed the restrictions after the school’s newspaper, the “Innovator,” published several articles critical of the university’s administration, according to Mark Goodman, Executive Director for the Student Press Law Center in Virginia.
“The case appears to signal that CSU [California State University] campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers, provided that there is an establish[ed] practice of regularized content review and approval for pedagogical purposes,” Helwick wrote in a memo to CSU presidents following the ruling.