It is generally accepted wisdom that colleges and universities stopped acting in loco parentis (in the place of parents) in the 1960s. But I’m beginning to wonder about that, given the latest campus attack on the First Amendment ostensibly to protect college students from bad influences. As Leah Mishkin reports for WBTW News 13 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), Coastal Carolina University (CCU) recently banned a local alternative newspaper, The Weekly Surge, from campus. CCU’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Debbie Conner, justified the decision by explaining that “most of the articles dealt with conversations about alcohol or drinking and almost all the advertisements were advertisements related to establishments that are serving alcohol[.]” This decision betrays the principle of freedom of expression. CCU, a public university bound by the First Amendment, is not allowing a newspaper to be distributed on its campus because it includes content—discussion of alcohol, a legal product—that it doesn’t like. It doesn’t get more blatant than that. And, in fact, CCU may be realizing how ridiculous it looks; according to Conner, the ban is not permanent, but “the paper did not fall in line with the educational goals for this semester.” (Who knew local newspapers had to meet “educational goals?”) I’m guessing this is an attempt to save face. It makes no sense to say that articles mentioning alcohol or local bars do not meet “educational goals” during one particular semester, thereby implying that they might be compatible with those goals at a later time. All of which begs the more important question: What educational goals are served by banning a publication at a university, whose fundamental purpose is the free exchange of ideas, in order to limit to the access of adult students to references about drinking? Opposing the university’s action is not a vote for underage drinking. However, if the students at CCU don’t have the critical thinking skills to distinguish between a review of a local bar and an invitation to abuse alcohol, then the school has failed to fulfill its fundamental mission. Even Conner acknowledged that the newspaper ban would not stop underage drinking. So it’s a symbolic gesture that guts freedom of the press.Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” By his yardstick, the CCU campus is in great danger.Image: Newspapers - Shutterstock
Radford University is the latest school to receive a rare “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.