Free-Speech Groups Describe Campus Media as Besieged

Colleges in every sector of higher education are threatening the independence of their student journalists, says a report released on Thursday by advocacy groups focused on free speech or academic freedom.

The report describes several recent public controversies — including those at Mt. Saint Mary’s University, in Maryland; Northern Michigan University; and Wesleyan University, in Connecticut — in which student newspapers or their advisers complained of coming under undue pressure to restrict content.

Such cases “may be just the tip of a much larger iceberg,” the report says, citing a March survey by the College Media Association that found many college media advisers had felt administrative pressure that they did not discuss publicly for fear of losing their jobs.

“Administrative efforts to subordinate campus journalism to public relations are inconsistent with the mission of higher education to provide a space for intellectual exploration and debate,” says the report, jointly published by the American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Student Press Law Center.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for colleges to create structural barriers to outside interference in student journalists’ decisions. It also urges other states to follow Maryland’s and North Dakota’s lead in adopting laws that protect the free-speech rights of student journalists and their advisers.

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