NEW HAVEN, Conn., October 29, 2008—Quinnipiac University (QU) has threatened a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists with expulsion from campus if the group associates with The Quad News, an independent student newspaper formed in response to QU’s attacks on students’ press freedom. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on the university, known for its political polling operation, to either permit freedom of association on campus or publicly declare that it no longer guarantees basic student rights.
“After driving last year’s editors of the primary student newspaper off campus, QU has declared the students’ new paper an enemy, limited its access to administrators, and has even threatened another student group with de-recognition simply for associating with the paper,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Journalists rely on Quinnipiac’s polls, but the school itself is showing genuine contempt for its own student journalists. Quinnipiac should honor its purported commitment to freedom of expression by respecting the free speech of its student press.”
The ordeal for the QU student press began in spring 2007, when QU prohibited the student editors of The Quinnipiac Chronicle from publishing news online prior to the same news appearing in print. QU President John Lahey defended this prior restraint by saying he wanted to be able to read the news in print “before the external world hears about it.” After then-Chronicle editor-in-chief Jason Braff challenged the policy, Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell stated that “student leaders, especially those in paid positions, are expected to generally be supportive of university policies.”
When QU went so far as to take control over the selection of this year’s Chronicle staff in an effort to better control the paper, the paper’s editors and applicants abandoned the Chronicle and founded an independent online news source, The Quad News, which began publishing this semester.
Yet driving nearly the entire staff of a student newspaper to work off-campus was not enough for QU administrators. Earlier this semester, students in QU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and student members of The Quad News jointly participated in activities held on campus. On September 8, in response to these interactions, Daniel W. Brown, Director of QU’s Student Center and Student Leadership Development, wrote to Jaclyn Hirsch, who is both SPJ president and managing editor of The Quad News. Brown’s letter stated that “any further interaction or endorsements with The QUAD News [sic] could result in the Quinnipiac University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists losing its recognition status.” While QU’s 2008-2009 Student Handbook states that independent organizations such as The Quad News may not “operate on campus,” Brown’s letter bans “interaction” altogether.
FIRE wrote President Lahey on September 17, pointing out that at any public university, Brown’s restriction would be a clear violation of the group’s First Amendment right to freedom of association.
“QU is a private university, and it may choose to prize certain values higher than freedom of the press and freedom of association. But what value is QU promoting here other than squelching criticism of the university?” Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, asked.
Although FIRE requested a response by October 8, QU has thus far failed to reply. Meanwhile, according to Braff, the SPJ students have not engaged in any public interaction with The Quad News.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our nation’s campuses. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Quinnipiac University and elsewhere can be viewed at www.thefire.org.