Free speech, press battle at Quinnipiac U

By December 1, 2007

The editor of The Chronicle at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut is locked in a battle with university administrators over student journalists’ First Amendment rights, according to an article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times.

Jason Braff, the 20-year-old editor of The Chronicle, has said the university administration threatened to fire him after he criticized a university policy in an interview with The Waterbury Republican American in late October. Braff was quoted in the Oct. 30 article as saying the university’s policy prohibiting the student newspaper from posting articles on its Web site before running them in print was “ridiculous.”

In a follow-up story on Nov. 13, The Republican-American reported that Braff “was told in a letter from Dean of Students Manuel C. Carreiro that he may ‘need to reconsider’ his position at the paper if he continues to speak publicly against university policy.”

Lynn Bushnell, the school’s vice president for public affairs, denied that such a threat had been made, according to the Times article.

“We do not discipline students who criticize the university or its policies,” she was quoting as saying. “We do discipline students who fail to follow clearly established policies. However, student leaders, especially those in paid positions, are expected to generally be supportive of university policies. If they disagree with established policies, we expect them to go through normal administrative channels to try to change policies.”

The university has taken a number of actions to limit The Chronicle’s ability to report news. In addition to the ban on Web-first publishing, administrators have enacted policies limiting access to university officials and discouraging reporters from covering student government meetings when the university president speaks.

Braff and Chronicle Managing Editor David Westerberg laid out the pattern of limitations on student press freedom in an Oct. 24 article entitled “Lahey: Student media hinders progress,” and in an open letter (also signed by Managing Editor Melissa Moller) to university President John L. Lahey published in the opinion section the same day.

“It is apparent from your actions and statements that you are trying (and succeeding) to limit our outreach and access,” the letter to the president said. “As a private institution, Quinnipiac is not required to adhere to the First Amendment. However, the administration’s recent actions are a threat to freedom of the press on our campus.”

Kudos to Braff and The Chronicle editors for reporting on and publicly criticizing the university’s efforts to stifle the press. They’re standing up for student journalists everywhere.

Even though Quinnipiac University is a private school there are clearly some significant First Amendment issues here. I hope to see College Media Advisers, Associated Collegiate Press, the Student Press Law Center and other groups concerned about student press freedom to enter the discussion.

Those who want to get involved can join a “Support Jay Braff and The Chronicle” group on Facebook.

If you’re concerned about the university’s policy preventing the paper from breaking stories online first or about its threat against Braff, you can contact Quinnipiac University President John L. Lahey at John.Lahey@quinnipiac.edu or call 203-582-8700.

Schools: Quinnipiac University