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University of Wisconsin-Superior Abandons Investigation of Newspaper’s April Fools’ Edition

Last week, FIRE wrote a letter to the University of Wisconsin – Superior (UWS) demanding that administrators drop their investigation into the April Fools’ edition of the campus’ student newspaper, the Promethean. On Friday, UWS did precisely that.

The Duluth News-Tribune reports:

The University of Wisconsin-Superior has closed an investigation into its student newspaper’s April 1 edition that sparked criticism that it was a guise for publishing offensive jokes about minorities.

Promethean Editor-in-Chief Marcus White said the staff was notified during a meeting with the UWS Dean of Students Office on Friday afternoon that the office was closing the investigation into a grievance filed against the paper and that no further action will be taken.

The Promethean confirmed the news via Facebook:

A bit of an update tonight...

The Promethean met with the UWS Dean of Students office late this afternoon. The DoS...

Posted by UW-Superior Promethean on Friday, April 22, 2016

This is the right outcome, and we’re pleased UWS quickly closed the investigation after receiving FIRE’s letter. It doesn’t, however, change the fact that no investigation should have been initiated. Students—including the student who filed the grievance that triggered this investigation—are free to report speech that offends them to administrators. But in responding to such complaints by opening and publicly announcing an investigation, as UWS did, administrators send the message to students that the university considers it its job to referee and penalize protected speech. That only encourages more complaints to administrators—chilling free speech yet further.

In this instance, students might be deterred from trying their hands at satire—a difficult art form which is always likely to offend somebody. After all, who would want to try to make a pointed joke if it meant having to meet with administrators to explain it?

As for next year, the Promethean’s current editor, Marcus White, plans to continue the tradition, and offers this advice for those who might attempt a satirical issue:

Make sure you have an understanding of what you are writing about. The best satire is one that makes an impact, even if it is not the impact you intended. Know your intentions and stick to them. Be ready to have conversations with people on their viewpoints and be sure to be respectful of people's opinions, even if they are not ones you agree with. You have the right to publish, but understand that other people may or may not agree with you.

That—and not administrative investigations—is the best response to offensive speech.  

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