The CSU Board of Student Communications, the publishing board of the Collegian, said Tuesday it does not intend to seek legal counsel before voting on proposed changes to its bylaws that could grant them authority to punish the editor for printing profanity.
CSU professor Jim Landers, interim president of the BSC and the member who proposed the revisions, said the proposal is in response to a Sept. 21 editorial in the Collegian that read, “Taser This . F*** BUSH.”
The staff editorial garnered national attention, harsh criticism and spawned campus-wide debate about free speech and the role of a campus newspaper.
With the BSC’s hands tied under the First Amendment and the BSC bylaws, Editor in Chief J. David McSwane ultimately received nothing more than a slap on the wrist for the editorial.
But under the proposed changes the board is seeking more authority to punish editors who use profanity.
One revision would strike “or punish” from the section stating: “University officials cannot . censor or punish the use of indecent, vulgar or so called ‘four-letter’ words in student publications.”
McSwane addressed the BSC during their first reading of the proposed changes, urging them not to entertain a move that he called “de facto censorship.”
“Don’t’ you think this sets a bad precedent for collegiate free press?” McSwane asked Landers at the BSC meeting.
“No,” Landers said.
McSwane also raised concerns about restructuring the BSC so that Landers’ position be filled by a student member — a requirement under the bylaws.
Mike Hiestand, a lawyer with Student Press Law Center, a group that provides legal services for student journalists, said if the board does vote to remove “or punish” from the BSC bylaws, the decisions will be unconstitutional, welcoming a First Amendment fight.
McSwane asked Landers if the BSC had consulted or was intending to consult lawyers with SPLC or the University General Council regarding the legality of the change.
Landers said, “No.”
University spokesman Brad Bohlander issued a statement Tuesday, stating the approval of the change isn’t ultimately the BSC’s decision but also needs to be approved by the CSU Board of Governors.
“The (BSC) can propose changes to its bylaws. However, any proposed changes would then be subject to review by the Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System, which would include a legal review by the Colorado State University System Office of General Council to ensure absolute compliance with the First Amendment,” Bohlander said in the statement.
CSU President Larry Penley released a statement in the wake of the editorial that said, “The First Amendment to U.S. Constitution precludes a state institution . from exercising prior restraint on expression with regard to public areas such as student newspapers, based on the content of the messages or ideas expressed therein.”
The change will have a negative impact on college newspapers across the nation, McSwane said Tuesday, and is the first step toward prior restraint.
At least three voting BSC members were absent from the meeting.
The BSC will do a second reading on the proposed changes to its bylaws Nov. 27 and is scheduled to vote on them Dec. 4.
Assistant News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.