It is mid-August, intoxicated 18-year-olds rampage the streets of downtown Fort Collins, looting shops, overturning vehicles and assaulting police officers. Hundreds are arrested and many more injured. Media from around the state and nation converge on the city, eagerly reporting the mayhem that ensues. When the students of CSU return to classes the following morning, the headline of the Collegian states: "Excited Students Return to Classes." No mention of the arrests, destruction or violence is found within the paper.
This Orwellian vision just came a step closer to reality last week with a ruling from the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals. In a split 7-4 decision, the court ruled that a college newspaper's first amendment rights had not been violated when the dean of the school disagreed with the student-run paper's content and halted its production. The case was started when a group of student employees took up issue with the dean's right to manipulate their content and decided to sue.
The case reversed a lower court's decision that held for a separation between the rights of high school and college newspapers. It had been ruled previously that while high school papers were run as part of class programs, the college papers were in fact extracurricular activities to which the administration of the school had no right to review prior to printing.
Unfortunately, the members of the Seventh Circuit went against the prior ruling and set a dangerous precedent for the future. The court has literally given a green light for administrators to determine, edit and censor the content of what students print and read. While many have considered the university system to be one of free thought and ideas, the future may be one of lessons in government control and silencing of critics.
Consider CSU's recent past and how such silencing of the media would affect its students. Last year's coverage of the fall riots would have gone unreported in fear of casting the school in a negative light. The off-campus deaths would have never been written or spoken of out of the fear of a tarnished reputation. A student's death in the Student Recreation Center's pool would have been quietly swept under the carpet without anyone on campus knowing the reports of an alleged cover-up. Tuition hikes would never be brought before a public forum, thus denying those who are paying the administrations salaries any say in its policies. Thoughts of modern day China are conjured up, where no mention or memorial alluding to the Tiananmen Square massacre can be found.
The issue of censorship is a slippery slope, once it has become acceptable in one medium, it can more easily be applied towards another. The government has shown no great love of the media lately and is no doubt envious now of the restrictions awarded school administrators. Hope must remain that the higher courts will see the error of the Seventh Circuit's ways and release college newspapers from the shackles of censorship control.
JP Eichmiller is a senior technical journalism major. He is the summer editor in chief of the Collegian