Armstrong Atlantic State University, Student Newspaper Settle Lawsuit

November 21, 2008

After the Student Government Association (SGA) at Armstrong Atlantic State University (AASU) in Savannah, Ga., cut funding for the student newspaper The Inkwell by $14,760, editors for the paper filed suit against the university and the SGA for violation of their First Amendment rights. The Inkwell alleged that its budget was slashed because the SGA disapproved of several articles that criticized the university.

As we reported on The Torch back in July, the lawsuit alleged that "Shortly after the start of the 200708 academic year, officials of AASU and of the AASU Student Government Association began a pattern of openly criticizing and second-guessing the content and viewpoint decisions made by the editors of The Inkwell." According to the complaint, this pattern included, among other things:

On September 20, 2007, Al Harris, AASU Director of Student Activities and SGA faculty advisor, told Mensing that he forb[ade] her to publish a critical article, which Harris had been told was forthcoming, about the University’s Department of Plant Operations regarding expired elevator permits.

On September 24, 2007, Robin Jones, AASU Assistant Director of Student Activities and CUB faculty advisor, complained to Mensing that the Inkwell had printed an article containing an interview with Jones without giving Jones an advance copy so that she could pre-approve its content before publication. [Italics added; Thomas Jones, Al Harris, and Vice President for Student Affairs Vicki McNeil are also named defendants.]

On November 11, both parties reached an agreement out of court and The Inkwell‘s budget was fully reinstated, with the university also paying the paper’s legal fees and damages to the tune of $7,500.

FIRE is pleased that AASU has acknowledged its mistake in cutting funding for The Inkwell because it disagreed with some of its content and has restored the paper’s operating budget to what it once was. Hopefully the administration and SGA have learned that attempting to censor a newspaper at a public university is not only illegal but also discourages students from participating in enlightening debate.