Quinnipiac University Threatens Student Group with Expulsion for Associating with Off-Campus Newspaper

By October 29, 2008

Today’s FIRE press release summarizes the poor state of freedom of the press at Quinnipiac University (QU), which threatened its student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists with expulsion from campus if the group associates with The Quad News, an independent student newspaper formed in response to QU’s attacks on students’ press freedom, which we have covered several times before.

The ordeal for the QU student press began in spring 2007, when QU prohibited the student editors of The Quinnipiac Chronicle from publishing news online prior to the same news appearing in print. QU President John Lahey defended this prior restraint by saying he wanted to be able to read the news in print "before the external world hears about it." After then-Chronicle editor-in-chief Jason Braff challenged the policy, Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell stated that "student leaders, especially those in paid positions, are expected to generally be supportive of university policies."

When QU went so far as to take control over the selection of this year’s Chronicle staff in an effort to better control the paper, the paper’s editors and applicants abandoned the Chronicle and founded an independent online news source, The Quad News, which began publishing this semester.

Yet driving nearly the entire staff of a student newspaper to work off-campus was not enough for QU administrators. Earlier this semester, students in QU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and student members of The Quad News jointly participated in activities held on campus. On September 8, in response to these interactions, Daniel W. Brown, Director of QU’s Student Center and Student Leadership Development, wrote to Jaclyn Hirsch, who is both SPJ president and managing editor of The Quad News. Brown’s letter stated that "any further interaction or endorsements with The QUAD News [sic] could result in the Quinnipiac University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists losing its recognition status." While QU’s 20082009 Student Handbook states that independent organizations such as The Quad News may not "operate on campus," Brown’s letter bans "interaction" altogether.

Bushnell recently said that The Quad News had "aggressively sought to undermine the continued existence" of the Chronicle, but The Quad News has strongly denied any hostility to the Chronicle.

We wrote President Lahey on September 17, pointing out that at any public university, Brown’s restriction would be a clear violation of the group’s First Amendment right to freedom of association. QU is a private university, and it may choose to prize certain values higher than freedom of the press and freedom of association. But what value is QU promoting here other than squelching criticism of the university?

FIRE requested a response by October 8, but QU has thus far failed to reply. Meanwhile, according to Braff, the SPJ students have not engaged in any public interaction with The Quad News.

The Associated Press recently ran a long article on the controversy by Larry Smith as well, and yesterday The New York Times reported the story through an editorial.

President Lahey can be contacted at 203-582-8700 or john.lahey@quinnipiac.edu. SPJ President Jaclyn Hirsch can be contacted at jbhirsch@quinnipiac.edu.

Schools: Quinnipiac University Cases: Quinnipiac University: Freedoms of Press and Association in Jeopardy