Even before Friday’s now-infamous editorial, I was going to write about freedom of speech today.
No, I wasn’t going to talk about Andrew Meyers and the “taser incident” at the University of Florida – more than enough has been said about that.
Lost amid the cries of “Don’t tase me, bro,” were real concerns about infringements on freedom of speech here at CSU, glossed over in the Collegian and missed completely by regional and national media.
The editorial board and management of the Collegian seem to have little love for the fraternity brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha – the “Pikes.” From the very first day of the semester, Collegian columnists have editorialized against them and, to some extent, against the Greek community as a whole.
I can understand that, on a few levels.
The unkempt Pike fraternity house, right near a gateway to the university on Laurel St, doesn’t project a positive image of CSU students. The Pike’s “Dreamgirls” calendar, featuring images of scantily clad women, reeks of the worst kind of sexism and exploitation.
But just because they’re unpopular doesn’t mean that injustices against the Pikes should be ignored.
It was during freshman move-in that some of the Pikes tried to hand out their “Dreamgirls” calendar in campus residence halls. Because they weren’t authorized to be there, CSU police officers told them that they had to leave and stop handing out their recruitment literature.
This incident prompted a series of news reports in the Collegian and an angry letter from John Linton, an attorney and relative of several Pikes.
He demanded that the Collegian apologize for biased and inaccurate coverage, and that CSU shut the paper down while editorial standards were reviewed. CSU administrators responded firmly and correctly: they have no authority to shut down the Collegian, for biased reporting or for unfavorable editorials.
Unanswered in all this coverage is an important point: Although campus police were well within their authority to demand that unauthorized Pikes leave the residence halls, they didn’t have the authority to prohibit Pikes from passing out their calendar elsewhere on campus.
Whether campus police overstepped their bounds by banning distribution of literature in public areas on campus was left unaddressed both by the Collegian and by CSU.
An even more disturbing accusation is made in Linton’s letter, which also went ignored – “reports that members of Pi Kappa alpha have been instructed to wear their shirts and other garments that bear their Greek letters or fraternity’s name inside out.”
Telling students what they can and cannot wear on campus would blatantly cross the line into restricting legitimate student expression – yet both CSU and the Collegian, for their purported “commitment to freedom of speech,” made no apparent attempt to investigate these allegations.
The Collegian could have exhibited their commitment to freedom of speech by thoroughly investigating these complaints.
They involve nuanced applications of First Amendment case law and precedent, and would have served as a fantastic tool through which students could be educated about their legal rights. Instead, they were only glossed over in news coverage of the dorm incident.
Instead of investigating real “free speech” stories, Collegian staff chose to become one themselves, by publishing a profane editorial.
I’ll defend their First Amendment right to do so – but journalistically, it was a lousy choice.
In their zeal to make national news, I urge the editors and reporters for the Collegian not to forget their obligation to be investigative journalists.
Let’s look into what may be real abridgements on freedom of speech first, before creating incidents of our own.
Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org