Colorado State—Second Update

October 1, 2007

Colorado State University’s Board of Student Communications has decided to hold a formal, private hearing on October 4 to decide the fate of the paper’s editor, David McSwane, regarding his staff’s constitutionally protected editorial.

Last week I pointed out that CSU’s Board of Student Communications and Student Media Bylaws respect the First Amendment rights of the Rocky Mountain Collegian and its staff. The Board of Student Communications (BSC) should remember that the constitutional protections acknowledged in the bylaws actually trump any restrictions on speech that might be found elsewhere in the document. For example, a Code of Ethics has been incorporated into the Bylaws. This code incorporates some blatantly unconstitutional restrictions. Take a look at these:


Staffers will take care in writing to avoid applying commonly thought but usually erroneous group stereotypes to individuals who are members of a particular group (See Student Media’s Common Sense Manual). Generalizations based upon stereotypes can be misleading and inaccurate. In a broader sense, writers and photographers should avoid more subtle stereotyping in their selection of interviewees and subjects of photographs. Some examples of negative stereotypes: unmarried, black, teenage, welfare mothers; unemployed, alcohol using Native Americans; overweight, long-haired, white biker outlaws; limp-wristed, effeminate gays; inarticulate, dumb, blonde women; frat-rats.


Identification of a person as a member of any population group should be limited to those cases when that membership is essential for the reader’s complete understanding of the story; it should be done with great care so as not to perpetuate negative group stereotyping (See Student Media’s Common Sense Manual). When identifiers are used, it is important that the correct one be used. Some examples of identifiers: Hispanic, Jew, lesbian, Italian, person with AIDS (PWA), physically challenged, hearing impaired.


Staffers will avoid sexist labels and descriptive language and replace them with neutral terms and descriptions.

Although these restrictions are in the BSC bylaws, the unconstitutional restraints here cannot become grounds for punishment by the university, or by the BSC on behalf of the university, if they are violated.

Other media, such as the Denver Post, note another line in the BSC bylaws stating that “Profane and vulgar words are not acceptable for opinion writing.” Well, these are protected words, too.

Besides being unconstitutional, that part of the bylaws may not be relevant to the present case. In the appendices to the bylaws, there are two codes of ethics that might apply to the Collegian. The line in question comes not from the official code of ethics but from a proposed one, dated 2003: “As of September 2003 this code is pending final formal approval of the Board of Student Communications so the official code remains the Student Media Code of Ethics.” There is no record online of the BSC having approved the alternative code of ethics. Further information is needed.

Once again, stay tuned.

Schools:  Colorado State University