Syracuse University’s alternative monthly publication Jerk Magazine was at the center of a campus debate about freedom of the press this week after it was told by administrators from the school’s Dining Services department that no publication except the official Daily Orange student newspaper was allowed in the dining halls. When the students asked why, they were informed that it was a "longstanding policy." However, when they made further inquires, they were told that the mysterious policy was in fact unwritten.
FIRE is understandably uncomfortable with "unwritten" policies that ban student publications from parts of campus. So is The Daily Orange itself, which ran a well-written editorial yesterday pointing out that while the university said it was not singling out Jerk Magazine specifically,
[…] it is hindering its readership by not allowing it to be distributed in high-traffic areas. Syracuse University is recognized as having one of the top communications schools in the country, and limiting the distribution of publications and creating road blocks for students to view their peers’ work is counterproductive.
Unless a policy can be presented in writing, these actions violated students’ rights to publish free ideas as well as the ability for students to learn the ideas and opinions of their peers.
Thankfully, wiser heads in the Syracuse administration appear to have prevailed. FIRE contacted Jerk Magazine and heard that Syracuse was planning to rescind the policy after Dean Lorraine Branham of the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications informed Chancellor Nancy Cantor that the policy violated students’ right to free speech. (Syracuse is a private university with a red-light speech code, but commits itself to protecting freedom of expression and the right to dissent.) An article in today’s Daily Orange confirmed this, reporting that Cantor
[…] sent an e-mail out to student publications alerting them that the Chancellor had overturned the policy, and they could now distribute freely in the dining centers, said Melissa Chessher, faculty advisor to Jerk magazine.
"The magazine is elated," Chessher said. "It’s the perfect solution. I’m glad I’m not the only one who was baffled by the whole thing."
Branham believes the university has a responsibility to not limit freedom of speech, she said. Newhouse’s role is to make students aware of what those rights are, she said.
"As a school of communications we understand it to be one of the most important civil liberties," she said.
It’s nice to see how quickly Syracuse corrected this situation. Now if only it would get to work fixing its red-light speech code!