A group of University of Delaware students have been cleared to distribute a locally produced, conservative newspaper, The Lamplighter, on the Newark campus. The University already has a sanctioned student newspaper, The Review, which has been on campus for more than 50 years.
According to Bill Rivers, an editor of the independent paper, student journalists attempted to distribute the newspaper at the Trabant Student Center during the University’s Freshman Activities Day Sept. 1. Since The Lamplighter is not a university-recognized student organization, the publication was denied participation in the campus-wide event. A University administrator informed the renegade newspaper staffers they were violating Newark city and school policy by dispensing materials without prior approval.
Rivers, who resides in Newark, said, "Our founding fathers fought to give us liberties; either your rights are important to you or they are not. I wanted stand up for our rights. I felt it was important to confront the administration on these fundamental rights." Rivers added he is considering a career either in journalism or, more likely, in politics.
The Lamplighter later claimed that Scott Mason, associate director of the student center at UD, attempted to interfere with students’ right to free speech. The paper also claimed Mason misled the students about their legal rights.
"Mason told us we were blocking the entrance to the student center. We moved, but were then told it was against a Newark city ordinance to solicit the papers," said Rivers. "We were distributing them for free, not trying to sell the papers, so we complied."
Mason had no comment on the incident. Officials from the University’s Student Life Division did not return phone calls from the Community News.
The newspaper staff then contacted the "Foundation for Individual Rights in Education" (FIRE) for help. FIRE’s mission is to "defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities." Rivers said that, contrary to administration claims, "FIRE’s research revealed no city ordinance forbidding the distribution of free materials."
The Lamplighter was founded in 2006 by Ryan Silberstein, a former intern at the Leadership Institute (LI) of Arlington, Va. The Institute provided extensive training for the staff and assisted the students with printing their first issue through grant money. Silberstein graduated from UD in May. The staff publishes the paper monthly, and is now permitted to distribute the paper on campus, following University guidelines.
LI spokeswoman Adrienne Moorehead said her organization assists young conservatives in founding student-led publications on college campuses across the nation.
"We are there to help the students start up a newspaper through training workshops, and helping put the newspaper together and supporting the staff after the paper is established," she said.
LI, which began in 1979, currently has more than one thousand student groups and 184 active newspapers on college campuses throughout the country. Moorehead said these organizations work to bring a balanced political perspective to colleges and universities.