In theory, the college experience is geared toward helping students prepare to become active participants in society, yet the recent decision by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case of Hosty v. Carter en banc questions how seriously public officials take this objective. An extraordinarily significant case regarding the free speech rights of those college newspapers dependent upon their universities, Hosty vs. Carter has been in perpetual motion since October of 2000, when the Innovator, the Governors State University student newspaper, ran stories and editorials critical of the school’s administration (the evident final straw being a front-page story regarding the motives of the dismissal of the Innovator’s faculty adviser). The administration claims that journalistic professionalism was in danger and therefore decided to intervene. Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Carter decided that no further issues would be printed until the implementation of prior review by school administrators.
In front of the court, which is based in nearby Chicago, Governors State University argued that according to a prior U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which limits First Amendment protections for high school students by allowing prior review by administrators, they could legally demand prior review of articles. But on April 10, a three-judge panel of the court rejected that claim by the university when they stated that the overbearing Hazelwood opinion was not a model for the college press and that prior review of college papers is unconstitutional.
On April 24, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a petition for an en banc rehearing. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the rehearing on June 25, and while an en banc victory would carry great moral weight, it is possible that the court will agree with the attorney general.
If the court rules in favor of GSU, it would be the end of First Amendment protection for college journalists at schools across Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Essentially, this means that student papers could possibly be prevented from writing anything of importance if it may be damaging to the university it serves, which defies the purpose of journalism.
In addition, a triumph for GSU would mean that the case could be used as precedent for future cases involving student-run, university-funded publications, not to mention other school-funded activities. Radio, television and theater, among many other events, could also be restricted or censored, making college feel a lot more like high school.
First Amendment rights to free speech and free press are in place to serve as a foundation for American society, and are vital for keeping powerful institutions in check. Freedom of speech and press are also necessary for the progression of society.
It is alarming that Governors State University, an academic institution charged with the task of preparing its students for the future, is attempting to legally implement prior review to censor its own journalists. This certainly does not fulfill the university’s role of teaching its students citizenship; rather it would prefer to censor dissent.