Capping a busy—and victorious—day here at FIRE, President Susan A. Cole of New Jersey’s Montclair State University (MSU) announced today that the school’s student newspaper, The Montclarion, will receive full funding for the rest of the academic year. In a shocking case that received national media attention, The Montclarion‘s funding had been frozen last month by the president of MSU’s Student Government Association (SGA) as part of a long-running dispute between the paper and the SGA over public access to closed-door SGA meetings. President Cole further announced that The Montclarion would be formally separated from the SGA by no later than July 1, 2008, ending a 75-year relationship between the two institutions.
President Cole’s announcement comes just two days after FIRE had written her a letter pointing out that since SGA receives roughly 1.2 million dollars worth of mandatory student activity fees, it constituted an agent of MSU and was thus legally prohibited under the Constitution from punishing The Montclarion on the basis of published content. As we wrote:
[SGA President Ron] Chicken, [SGA Chief Justice-elect Nathaniel] Liberty and the SGA have blatantly overstepped their bounds in seeking to punish The Montclarion for publishing articles critical of the SGA and making use of counsel approved by previous actions of the SGA. As president of a public institution, you cannot and must not allow these actions to stand. FIRE calls upon you to immediately clarify The Montclarion‘s status as an independent newspaper. As leaders in institutional governance, models for the SGA, and the ultimate authority in disciplinary matters, MSU administrators have a legal duty to step in where the SGA has failed and to check its attempt to trample upon students’ most basic freedom of press. By fulfilling this responsibility as a public official, you can teach the SGA leadership that they must respect the rights of MSU students and help to instill in them an understanding of the full repercussions for repeatedly and recklessly defying the Constitution.
We’re pleased that President Cole’s intervention will end the SGA’s unconstitutional attempt to silence The Montclarion. Since we’re still waiting to hear directly from President Cole, we’ll have more on Montclair State’s decision soon.