Keeping an Eye on Free Speech at Colorado State

By September 24, 2007

On Friday, Colorado State University’s student newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, published an editorial that stated, in large print, “FUCK BUSH.” While many students were likely surprised to open up their morning newspapers and find a large-print expletive, The Collegian’s pronouncement is entitled to First Amendment protection: in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a Vietnam War protestor to walk into a county courthouse wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words “Fuck the Draft.” Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1973). So while the newspaper may legitimately suffer private backlash as a result of its editorial choices—the Associated Press has reported that The Collegian has already lost $30,000 in advertising—the university may not take adverse action against the paper or its editorial board for their exercise of First Amendment rights.

Based on media coverage of this incident, there seem to be conflicting reactions from the university. On the one hand, CSU released an encouraging statement that “While we understand that the editorial in today’s Rocky Mountain Collegian is upsetting and offensive to many people, CSU is prohibited by law from censoring or regulating the content of its student media publications.” On the other hand, CSU’s Director of Student Media told The Coloradoan that “he is planning to launch an internal investigation into ‘the decision-making process’ followed in publishing the editorial.” I hope that the first statement represents the university’s most current view of the controversy, because an internal investigation based solely on the exercise of free speech rights is itself an infringement upon those rights. (In fact, the College Republicans at San Francisco State University are currently suing the university for dragging them through just such an investigation and hearing, despite their eventual exoneration).

FIRE will be following this situation closely and will keep Torch readers updated on any developments.

Schools: Colorado State University