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Fordham, American say they won’t prevent faculty, staff from speaking with media. Will UC Santa Cruz do the same?

Fordham University in Manhattan

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Restrictions on speaking with the media are among the most prevalent infringements on student and employee rights that FIRE sees. Dismantling these practices is a priority for FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative. So far this year, FIRE has convinced two institutions to lift these restrictions — Fordham University and American University — and we’re urging the University of California, Santa Cruz to do the same.

In December, FIRE wrote both Fordham and AU, in light of their respective commitments to uphold student and faculty expressive rights, to express our concern about the schools’ practices restricting student journalists’ right to report and employees’ right to speak to reporters.

FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative will continue to look for these restrictive policies at schools across the country and to advocate for expressive freedoms on campus.

After reports broke that Fordham told resident assistants they may not speak with the media about matters related to residential life or about the university generally, FIRE wrote the university urging it to amend its policies to respect student employees’ right to speak with the press as private citizens on matters of public concern. Although Fordham did not answer, we learned from students that Fordham told RAs in January that they can speak in their personal capacities — and can even tell reporters that they’re RAs — but that they cannot speak on behalf of the university. That’s exactly what we asked of Fordham, as institutions cannot censor employees when they speak as private individuals outside of their job responsibilities.

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AU’s press practices similarly infringed student and employee rights. The Eagle student paper told FIRE that AU requires student journalists to complete an online form requesting official approval to conduct interviews with university sources, including administrators and some faculty. The Eagle also told us that AU required employees to send student journalists who were seeking interviews to the online form.  As with Fordham, we wrote AU explaining that this requirement violates both employees’ right to express themselves and student journalists’ right to report. After some pushback, AU confirmed to FIRE, “Faculty and staff can choose to speak to student media in their personal capacity at their own discretion.”

Even as we worked to ensure respect for student and employee expressive rights — securing victories at two universities this year, and many in previous years — too many universities across the country continue to restrict students’ and employees’ ability to speak with journalists.

Most recently, FIRE learned that UC Santa Cruz reportedly requires university employees to direct press inquiries to its media relations office or to university counsel. So, we wrote the university last week explaining that, as a public institution bound by the First Amendment, it must allow university employees to speak directly to the media in their personal capacities on matters of public concern. 

We urge UC Santa Cruz to follow Fordham and AU’s lead and make clear that student journalists can speak directly with university employees and that university employees may speak as citizens without institutional permission. FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative will continue to look for these restrictive policies at schools across the country and to advocate for expressive freedoms on campus.

FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).

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