Partial Victory at Johns Hopkins

September 21, 2006

As today’s press release shows, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) told FIRE in a letter that it has dropped the harassment investigation against members of The Carrollton Record (TCR). However, the victory is bittersweet since JHU remains unrepentant about its discriminatory behavior toward TCR, has instituted tighter restrictions on distribution for every paper on campus, and has refused to condemn the theft of the paper.

TCR first came to FIRE when it got in trouble for printing an article about a campus event featuring Chi Chi LaRue, a pornographic film director, sponsored by the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA). The Office of Residential Life confiscated all copies of TCR from the dormitories. Hundreds of copies of the paper were taken from the main library where TCR regularly distributed. The administration refused to condemn the action, stating that taking a free publication did not constitute theft, despite a Maryland state law to the contrary. Furthermore, the administration informed TCR that certain members of its staff were under investigation for harassment.

FIRE came to TCR’s defense in letters to JHU’s Board of Trustees and president on May 19, August 9, and September 5 asking for three things. First, that JHU drop the harassment charges against TCR. FIRE argued that students should be free to express controversial views without fear of reprisal. Second, that JHU protect TCR’s right to distribute on campus. JHU had banned TCR from the campus dormitories by appealing to a postering policy while allowing the liberal student newspaper, The Donkey, distribution rights. Third, that JHU condemn the theft of TCR per the Maryland state law prohibiting removal of mass quantities of a free publication as theft.

JHU’s latest letter was a relief in the sense that TCR’s staff is not being investigated for harassment for criticizing another student. However, JHU continues to deny that taking large quantities of TCR constituted theft and refuses to condemn the action. Instead of expanding freedoms for student newspapers, JHU has simply instituted a policy that bans all campus publications from being distributed in the dorms.

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff summed up the case thusly: “The university does not have much to be proud of in the way it handled this case. Problems still remain, and as the school year gets underway, FIRE will be watching JHU.” You better believe it.

Schools:  Johns Hopkins University