In California, New Law Protecting College Journalism Advisors Takes Effect Today

January 5, 2009

Since last June, we’ve reported on the progress of California legislation designed to protect college and high school journalism advisors from retaliation from school administrators angered by the content of student reporting. As we followed Senate Bill 1370, authored and sponsored by State Senator Leland Yee, we noted the significance of the problem the legislation sought to address. In June, I wrote:

While FIRE does not support, endorse, or lobby for legislation, we can attest to the clear need for the protection Bill 1370 would provide. Echoing the shameful instances of administrative retaliation against student newspaper advisors cited by Senator Yee’s office, FIRE has seen examples of this form of de facto administrative censorship across the nation. Perhaps the most high profile abuse occurred at Kansas State University (KSU), where a newspaper advisor to the award-winning KSU Collegian was removed by university administrators after complaints about the paper’s content. The advisor’s removal sparked litigation, as two student journalists took the school to court arguing that the removal violated their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the case (Lane v. Simon, Nos. 05-3266 & 05-3284 (10th Cir. 2007)) against the students on a technicality, ruling that the student journalists lacked standing to pursue the case because they had graduated while the case was under review. FIRE joined an amicus brief with the Student Press Law Center requesting the Tenth Circuit to rehear the case, but the Tenth Circuit denied the appeal.

After surviving threats from the University of California and an extended budget standoff between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California State Assembly, we are pleased to report that the legislation, signed into law in October, takes effect today.

The law, now known as the Journalism Teacher Protection Act, prohibits school administrators from engaging in various forms of retaliation against journalism teachers, student media advisors or any other employee involved with a student publication on the basis of that involvement. We at FIRE are pleased to see California lead the way in working to protect the First Amendment rights of the student press and those faculty and staff who help teach students the value of a free press.