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Good News for the Student Press at University of Wisconsin-Stout

One of the most gratifying and inspiring parts of my job here at FIRE is seeing our work on behalf of student and faculty rights help spark changes in an institution’s approach to freedom of expression. I’m very pleased to pass along news of just that sort of positive change today from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which recently released an excellent new policy statement on student press rights (PDF).

The statement, signed by Chancellor Robert M. Meyer, reads in full:

UW-Stout Statement on Independent Student Publications

To affirm UW-Stout’s longstanding commitment to freedom of the press for independent student publications, including but not limited to, the Stoutonia, Prometheus Magazine, Pepper Magazine and Fashion, Art and Beauty, Chancellor Meyer recognizes such publications are designated public forums for student expression subject to the 2009 Model Guidelines for College Student Media published by the Student Press Law Center. Consistent with Supreme Court precedent and relevant case law protecting student First Amendment rights, the speech contained in these publications will be considered to be the independent expression of the students and publications themselves, and will not be considered institutional speech subject to censorship or oversight by the university.

Approved by Chancellor Meyer, October 15, 2014

Just a few years ago, FIRE was criticizing UW-Stout for censoring a professor’s Firefly poster—and today, we’re praising the university for taking a stand on behalf of a free student press. That’s a positive change, and we’re happy to celebrate UW-Stout’s commendable commitment to getting the First Amendment right.

UW-Stout’s new policy counters the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s disastrous 2005 ruling in Hosty v. Carter. In that case, the Seventh Circuit—the jurisdiction of which includes Wisconsin—held that administrative censorship of a Governors State University student newspaper funded by student activity fees did not violate the First Amendment. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Hosty opinion is its reliance on Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, a 1988 Supreme Court case concerning high school students’ speech rights. FIRE’s policy statement (PDF) on Hosty details the impact of this failing and catalogues each of the serious problems presented by the Seventh Circuit’s en banc ruling, and the Student Press Law Center has much more on both Hazelwood and Hosty.

Because the Supreme Court of the United States unfortunately declined to review Hosty, and because subsequent rulings by the Seventh Circuit have not overturned it, the burden of protecting college press rights has fallen elsewhere. Happily, some states—such as Illinois, which like Wisconsin is in the Seventh Circuit’s jurisdiction—have enacted so-called anti-Hosty laws, which make clear that campus administrators may not exercise prior review over college publications. But Wisconsin hasn’t followed Illinois’ lead, so we’re very pleased to see individual campuses like UW-Stout step up and set an excellent example.

We salute UW-Stout and its leadership for making sure that its student publications will operate free of administrative censorship, and for recognizing that the First Amendment always needs defending.

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