Morgan State University Facing Big Trouble over Press Censorship

By on July 23, 2009

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) recently reported on a very troubling turn of events at Morgan State University, a public university in Maryland, where freedom of the press is in dire jeopardy.

According to SPLC, the student newspaper, the Spokesman, was in hot water with the university administration after publishing a number of stories (mostly editorials) that "questioned the handling of student government [SGA] funds including inaccuracies in the budget. In one story, Spokesman reporter Reginald Larkin quoted an unnamed SGA source that said the university’s administration withheld records of ‘peculiar’ monetary transactions from the public." Larkin’s story reveals:

During the absence of the comptroller and the removal of the [SGA] advisor’s responsibilities, peculiar transactions began to appear. The transactions list names and amounts but no description as to how the money is spent. The amounts ranged [up to] $122,900.00 … [O]ne SGA member states, "they (President and Vice President) won’t let us see any of the records; they say it is not for us to see." One faculty member says "Questions need to be asked and answered," indeed if students never inquire about how students['] fees are spent they will never know.

According to SPLC, the university demanded that the newspaper’s advisor, Denise Brown, make sure that the administration would be able to meet with the students who wrote the stories, among other things, it seems, to discuss the identity of the unnamed SGA member. SPLC reports that "Floyd Taliaferro III, director of the university student center and student activities, informed Brown that renewal of her contract would depend on whether or not his demand to meet with students was met."

The students did not meet with the administration, so Brown was not renewed as advisor. According to a Spokesman article of July 2,

Several days later, OSA [Office of Student Activities] named Natasha Lewis the Interim Advisor. Angry students feel that the OSA again violated parts of the university Student Bill of Rights, stating that each student organization shall be free to choose its own advisor.

SPLC reports that Brown is "considering legal action," and this seems like a good move to me. You can’t remove a newspaper’s advisor in punishment for the content of stories, but that’s apparently what Morgan State University has done. SPLC reports that Brown also has contacted College Media Advisers, which has been investigating the details. FIRE will be closely following this caseand perhaps intervening as well.