Important Victory for Freedom of the Student Press

By August 2, 2006

Last week, the Student Press Law Center reported that a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction reinstating a student newspaper adviser who was removed for what students claim was retaliation for stories they printed criticizing the school’s president and administration. The injunction will allow Karen Bosley, adviser to Ocean County College’s Viking News, to continue in her job pending the outcome of lawsuits filed by Bosley and three of the paper’s student editors against OCC President Jon Larson and several other school administrators.

In his opinion, Judge Stanley R. Chesler wrote that the school’s decision to dismiss Bosley had violated the First Amendment rights of the students: “[I]t is clear that such a retaliatory removal would, nonetheless, have an impermissibly chilling effect on the paper’s student editors’ freedom of expression in future issues of the paper, and inflict irreparable harm on the Plaintiffs.”

Although the final outcome of the case is still pending, the preliminary injunction may be an encouraging sign that the damage from last year’s Seventh Circuit Hosty v. Carter ruling may be limited outside Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, the states directly bound by that decision. The Hosty court ruled that administrators at a public university could exert some control over university student newspapers, drastically curtailing the First Amendment rights of public university students and reducing their rights to nearly the same level as their high school counterparts.

FIRE has witnessed other attempts by university administrators to control the student press by firing faculty advisers who did not exercise control over the content of student publications. Hopefully this injunction is an indication that courts outside the Seventh Circuit will hesitate before putting Hosty into practice and will be more inclined to prevent the “chilling effect” on students’ free speech that accompanies attempts to control college newspaper advisers.