Spring break is here, and no one could be happier than we are. Frankly, we need some time to recover from the past month — it’s been a rough one for student journalism.
From Illinois campuses to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, collegiate newspapers have seen their fundamental right to inform seriously challenged in recent weeks. As we begin our fortnight without 202 York St., we ask student journalists and university administrators nationwide to respect and fight for the freedom of the student press. Some need this reminder more than others.
Even the casual reader can be no stranger to the recent controversy regarding the Danish cartoons that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Like many papers, we chose not to reprint the cartoons based on the argument that the story did not pertain specifically to our readership, and those interested in seeing the offending images could easily find them elsewhere. But we did not object to their reprinting on principle, and were astonished to see the editor-in-chief and editorials editor of The Daily Illini suspended by their own editorial board at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Student papers face censorship from without, as well. When the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Hosty v. Carter — a suit brought against Governors State University (Ill.) by the staff of its newspaper, The Innovator — it upheld a ruling allowing public universities to censor student papers. As an incorporated publication, we are free from such an administrative backlash. The staff of The Innovator were not so fortunate.
In both cases, organizations explicitly dedicated to the pursuit of truth and knowledge stifled freedom of the press and severely curtailed universities’ capacities for educated debate. We are surprised that the full Illini editorial board was not consulted on the inclusion of the Danish cartoons, but they cannot argue that the cartoons were run as a sign of solidarity with their arguments, or that their knee-jerk suspensions demonstrated the slightest ounce of respect for the First Amendment. Nor can GSU officials claim that quashing criticism of the school is consistent with its own core mission.
Student journalism bears an inherent and unique conflict of interest. As part of the relatively small community on which they report, collegiate papers are tied more closely to their subjects than most journalists. It is with respect to those ties that we eulogize peers who have left us and maintain anonymity in cases of attempted suicide.
But we also have a duty to inform that community, and nowhere is a strong press more desperately needed than at college, where a rising generation should find their preconceived notions challenged on all sides by open and forceful debate. To limit that debate or to castrate the student press, as the Illini and the GSU administration have done, contradicts the very nature of their stated goals.
We believe in “lux et veritas,” and we are fortunate to fight for it without fear of censorship. But far too many of our peers live with such threats daily. It is precisely because we have such a stake in our communities that the student press must address the most contentious issues that concern them, and that sensitivity to political correctness or a university’s public relations should not constrain such a basic freedom.