Right to free speech tested on campuses
Students in conflict with educators
BY MATTHEW O'ROURKE
Oct. 30, 2007
A university tells Connecticut students when to publish, a racial cartoon raises questions about decency, and a teenager criticizes a school administrators' decision to stop a music festival on her Web log.
Free speech has come under the microscope after three incidents at schools across Connecticut. Some see students' rights on a slippery slope, while others believe lessons can be learned to improve dialogue among different groups of people.
After an incident last spring, Quinnipiac University officials now reserve the right to review and withhold information that may be released in its student-run newspaper. Central Connecticut State University administrators have decided to use a cartoon and opinion column as a way to educate students about sexual assault. And Region 10 officials have refused to comment on a student's decision to publish derogatory comments on a personal Web site and the subsequent court battle.
When staff writers for the Quinnipiac Chronicle received reports of racial slurs written on students' dry eraser boards in August, they wanted to report it on their Web site.
But they couldn't, because Quinnipiac University's student-run newspaper had made an agreement with school administrators that barred them from posting stories before the paper went to print.
"What was decided (last year) was that the electronic version would come out at the same time as the hard-copy version so at least dinosaurs like me who read the hard copy version get an opportunity to read it before the external world hears about it," University President John Lahey was quoted as saying in an Oct. 24 Chronicle article.
The Recorder at Central Connecticut State University came under fire after publishing an editorial headlined "Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It" last spring. The opinion piece gained national attention and sparked student protests against the paper on campus. In September, the paper was at it again when it published a cartoon that mentioned locking a Latino girl in a closet and urinating on her.
University President Jack Miller formed a task force to review journalistic integrity in student media on campus after the spring incident. While the task force's report suggested hiring a faculty adviser and the creation of a journalism major, it did not recommend the school take steps to remove the paper's editor in chief, Mark Rowan.
Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, was barred from running for re-election for class secretary after she criticized Region 10 administrators in a derogatory way in an online posting at Livejournal.com from her home computer in April. Doninger,17, said she was upset that school officials had planned to cancel "Jamfest," a battle of the bands event held in the school's gym that she had helped to organize. She had held the student-elected position during her freshman, sophomore and junior years, and won a write-in candidacy that was later thrown out by administrators.
When Doninger was approached by Principal Karissa Niehoff and asked to step down from her position and withdraw her candidacy, she refused.
Doninger and her parents filed a lawsuit against Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz, stating that school administrators had violated her First Amendment rights.