Media Spotlight Intensifies on Grambling State University

By September 23, 2010

By severely restricting political speech through e-mail, Grambling State University is in violation of the First Amendmentand local and national news outlets are now on the case.

FIRE was the first to draw national attention to GSU’s misbehavior, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (LA ACLU) seconded FIRE’s concerns with its own letter sent yesterday. GSU’s initial response was so lacking that FIRE and LA ACLU issued a joint statement yesterday bringing further First Amendment issues with GSU’s policies to light.

FoxNews.com (whose coverage heavily informs a subsequent story in the New American) was among the first major national media outlets to report on FIRE’s case at GSU. Calling attention to the urgency of the situation, with local and national elections less than two months away, independent mayoral candidate Robert C. Wiley comments:

"We would hope the university would make it clear what student involvement (in politics) should be," said Robert C. Wiley ….

Wiley, the Grambling mayoral candidate, said the stakes are high with local and midterm elections this year, the governor’s race next year and the presidential race in 2012.

"We have to get students involved in this electoral process," he said. "If we don’t get students involved, then higher education will always be treated like a stepchild."

The Associated Press has also written about the controversy at GSU, and its coverage is carried today by several local and regional newspapers. The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Peter Schmidt covers FIRE and LA ACLU’s joint statement, as well as detailing the concerns originally laid out in FIRE’s letter to GSU President Frank G. Pogue. p2pnet, an online technology-oriented news site, has also picked up the story.

Daniel Luzer, web editor for Washington Monthy, adds to the skepticism over GSU’s decision-making, calling its maneuver a "highly unusual step" and pointing out that GSU is "essentially banning political communication on campus." Citing FIRE’s letter to GSU, he writes:

This particular stance is remarkable because it seems to suggest that an email message sent using an address owned by a university automatically implies the university’s endorsement of the contents of that email. This is not true.

[...]

Beyond that, the Grambling State policy just seems terribly inefficient. If the school really wanted to avoid the suggestion that it was endorsing any particular candidate wouldn’t it have been a hell of a lot easier to just put one of those "this communication expresses the views of the writer of this email, not the university" templates at the bottom of all school emails?

Luzer’s characterization of GSU’s reading of the Constitution and Louisiana state law as "remarkable" is no hyperbole. After all, who is going to mistake an e-mail forwarded by a GSU student as a statement of institutional policy?

Finally, The News-Star of Monroe, La., also provides excellent coverage of the case and GSU’s errors. One GSU alumnus comments for the story, dismayed at GSU’s stifling treatment of political speech:

Rico Rivers, a 1995 GSU graduate and a former editor of the university’s student newspaper, said he is dismayed by the university’s e-mail policy.

"My initial thought is, what would the pioneers and veterans of the Civil/Voting Rights Movement think?" Rivers said in an e-mail.

Rivers said the policy curbs political expression in a crucial election year that includes the Grambling’s mayoral race.

"It puts the university in a tough position to get students involved in future elections," he said.

FIRE will keep Torch readers informed of further developments as it continues fighting for free speech at GSU.

Schools: Grambling State University Cases: Grambling State University: Ban on Core Political Expression