As Thursday’s hearing for Colorado State University (CSU) student editor J. David McSwane draws near, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff spoke out against the school’s insistence on investigating McSwane in his latest entry on The Huffington Post.
McSwane’s “crime” was printing an editorial in a recent issue of The Rocky Mountain Collegian that simply stated “Taser This … F*** BUSH.” As one may expect, the backlash against the publication has been severe, ranging from a significant loss of advertising revenue, causing staff layoffs, to the upcoming hearing conducted by CSU’s Board of Student Communications (BSC), at which McSwane may be fired.
Torch readers will recall Adam and Sam’s previous postings on this case, and FIRE continues to watch closely as the details unfold. But for those who may not know (CSU administrators should tune in here), Supreme Court precedent comes down in favor of the right to free speech.
That’s right—students at public universities like CSU have the right to be insulting, degrading, vulgar, and even offensive. They can use the f-word, they can run a cartoon of a policeman raping the Statue of Liberty (as in Papish v. Board of Curators of the Univ. of Missouri, a 1973 Supreme Court case), they can criticize their school’s administration and policies, and they surely can comment on public affairs and current events.
And while McSwane, as editor, should face no official reprimand and should not be the subject of a hearing in this matter, the paper may endure other hardships as a result of the decision to publish the “F*** BUSH” editorial (like the loss of advertisers who choose not to associate with such controversial language).
As Greg said in The Huffington Post:
In working in defense of the student press, I see cases like this quite often. Accordingly, I know from experience that the response to the free speech argument is often an exasperated “So we just have to let the student press say whatever they want, no matter how offensive or juvenile, with no consequences whatsoever?” The answer to this is both yes and no. First, the paper should suffer no “official” consequences, and state institutions cannot and should not be in the business of policing student media for potential for offense. However, this is not to say that the student media will suffer no consequences for the content of their publication. Indeed, the student media always faces consequences: in particular, they face the natural consequences of their speech…Sadly, what the BSC is doing here is turning what would otherwise be a “teachable moment” into a much more depressing (and un-American) lesson about censorship and administrative prudery. The bottom line is that the Collegian editorial is clearly protected speech. You are free to disagree with it, you are free to condemn it, you are free to say it was unprofessional, but as soon as that disagreement and condemnation turns instead into official sanctions and forced resignations, our handy old First Amendment enters the fray.
The irony is that by disregarding the First Amendment rights of CSU student journalists and attempting to punish a student editor for saying “F*** BUSH,” the CSU administration is sending out an even louder, more disturbing message: “F*** THE CONSTITUTION.”