I firmly believe the U.S. Bill of Rights to be an integral portion of what our country stands for, and I think it is vastly more important than “Constitutional fat” as some Wichita State University Student Government Association senators have written.
To me, the most vital piece of the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment. It is one of the most sacred things our country has because it guarantees every citizen so many fundamental rights — such as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to petition the government and the right to peaceably assemble.
As a journalist, I live and die for the First Amendment because it allows me to do my job unfettered by government pressures and wills.
That soon might not be the case at WSU, and that is why I am prepared to sue the university, if needed, if such First Amendment violations are not stopped immediately.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Student Press Law Center, “The courts have ruled that if a school creates a student news or information medium and allows students to serve as editors, the First Amendment drastically limits the school’s ability to censor. Among censoring actions the courts have prohibited are confiscating copies of publications, requiring prior review, removing objectionable material, limiting circulation, suspending editors and withdrawing or reducing financial support.”
On March 26, The Sunflower News, the student newspaper at WSU of which I am editor-in-chief, received the proposed student fees budget for fiscal year 2009.
Approximately 50 percent of the paper’s funding comes from student fees, and this year the paper, which is a fixed line item, had a proviso attached to its funding.
The proviso stated the paper’s funding would not be released until a proposed task force evaluates the newspaper’s operations. This task force would report back to WSU Vice President for Campus Life and University Relations Ron Kopita.
This task force, though Kopita says otherwise, appears to stem from problems the university and the SGA has had with various, less-than-positive stories that have been published this year.
(Click here to read a PDF of what the rationale behind the pending task force is.)
Via this task force, The Sunflower News could be censored.
Granted, no one is explicitly stating what the newspaper can or cannot publish, but by holding the operational funding in limbo, the publishing of the newspaper could be stopped, which would most assuredly be a form of soft censorship.
Legal counsel from the SPLC clearly see the legal ramifications of making the newspaper’s funding contingent upon content, and counsel has advised that a lawsuit to protect the newspaper employees’ First Amendment rights would be winnable.
WSU Vice President and General Counsel Ted Ayres said he sees no legal problems with the situation.
At this point, the budget is awaiting approval from WSU President Don Beggs who could veto the entire budget and start the entire process over again. However, SGA President Allie Crouse has told The Sunflower News that Beggs was consulted on the budget before SGA approved it, and she said he planned on approving the budget as is.
Therefore, it is anticipated Beggs will give it the green light, but that is yet to come.
After Beggs’ signature, the budget will go the Kansas Board of Regents for final approval.
Kansas college newspaper advisers have vowed to be at the regents’ meeting voicing their concerns.
I plan on explaining The Sunflower News’ plight during that forum.
First Amendment violations are a big deal, and a quick Google search reveals at least eight media outlets across the country that reported The Sunflower News’ story.
(Click on the follow names to read some of the stories: The Wichita Eagle, Associated Press, SPLC, College Media Advisers, Fort Mill Times, The First Amendment Center, KFDA News Channel 10 and KAKE Channel 10.)
It is sad, though, that some administrators at a public university haven’t taken the time to educate themselves on the illegality of what is being proposed.
I live and die by the First Amendment, and I will do whatever it takes to protect my rights and the rights of my peers, even if that means suing the public university I will be graduating from in a few weeks.