Tarleton State University: Student Newspaper Forced to Remove Content After Frivolous Defamation Claim

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Tarleton State University

In 2018, the Texan New Service, a student newspaper at Tarleton State University, published articles about allegations of sexual harassment against then-Tarleton Professor Michael Landis. In July 2021, TNS received a demand letter from Landis’ attorney alleging that TNS’ reporting was defamatory. Tarleton’s administration then directed TNS to remove all “articles/videos referenced” in the demand letter, indicating that the university could pull funding for the newspaper if the content was not removed. On August 30, FIRE and the Student Press Law Center wrote to Tarleton explaining that Tarleton’s demand that TNS remove content from its website violates the university’s obligations under the First Amendment and that Landis’ threats were barred by statute of limitations. FIRE and SPLC called on the university to revoke its directives to TNS and agree to pay TNS any costs associated with defending litigation brought by Landis. Rather than revoke its directives, Tarleton instead chose to revoke TNS’s editorial independence, making it a faculty-edited classroom-based publication. FIRE is seeking public records related to this change.