Supreme Court abandons students

“President Cohon stands for all that is upright and good in U.S. universities.”

“Carnegie Mellon is an absolute steal at $45,000 per year.”

“I think that Scaife Hall is a masterwork of architecture comparable to the Parthenon.”

Any of that sound bizarre to you? If the Carnegie Mellon censors ever decide to clamp down on student publications like The Tartan, that’s the kind of flapdoodle we might be forced to publish — and you might be forced to read. Our administration can’t (and doesn’t) do it now, but if Carnegie Mellon were a public institution in Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin, it absolutely could.

The Supreme Court has turned its back on the collegiate free press. This issue began at Governors State University in Illinois, where the administration demanded to review the student publication The Innovator before it went to press. Evidently, The Innovator committed the sin of criticizing the administration in several published articles. The students fought the new rule, suing the university’s Board of Trustees and others because of the censorship. The students fought until the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which then said that the students could not sue — invoking a ruling that allows high school administrators to censor student publications.

For the record, Governors State University is not a high school.

A 1988 case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, allowed censorship of high school publications. The students who fought to prevent the censorship at Governors State rightly stated in their petition to the Supreme Court that while in high schools most students are minors, in colleges most students are over 18. We are, by and large, responsible adults. And as the students in this case also correctly pointed out, we come to college to explore new ideas, not to be prevented from hearing the voices of our peers.

The real tragedy isn’t what the Seventh Circuit allowed, but the fact that the Supreme Court will not hear the case appeal. Our highest court has abandoned the idea of a free press at the college level, and let the irresponsible ruling of the Seventh Circuit stand.

If you think this case doesn’t matter — that the Supreme Court has bigger fish to fry — think again. Just last month, after the Seventh Circuit decided to allow the censorship to take place but before the Supreme Court refused to hear the students’ appeal, the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s paper, The Pow Wow, was subjected to a “new policy of prior review,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Louisiana isn’t even in the region affected by the decision. Yet as long as the Seventh Circuit’s ruling stands, it will be an easy precedent to invoke if college administrators to censor student content.

The Supreme Court’s decision is baffling. It allows colleges to infer that they can get away with censoring student presses. The students at Governors State attempted to voice an opinion about the administration, and for that they were unceremoniously squashed. If other universities take their cue from Governors State, students on public campuses will have less and less access to free information. This is completely unjust, not only because we are students — but because we are voters, we are soldiers, and some of us are even husbands or mothers. We are just the same as every other citizen of this nation, and the fact that we attend a university does not change that status.

Money may be part of the issue. The school foots part of the bill, so administrators feel able to throw their weight around. But as we’ve learned before, not everyone can agree with where every penny spent in a university goes. This is especially true when the university takes offense to a student publication — it’s a matter of trust and an issue of freedom. It’s the principle of defending the values of democracy and equality that every university should stand on.

And if the Supreme Court does not realize that it is neglecting the highest principles of the nation, then we have yet to see the worst of what will become of free speech.