BALTIMORE, June 12, 2006-Johns Hopkins University (JHU) ended this school year by engaging in shameful viewpoint discrimination and denying its students freedom of the press. First, JHU turned a blind eye to the theft of a conservative student newspaper, The Carrollton Record (TCR), then stifled its right to distribute in dorms while allowing other papers to continue distributing there. TCR staff members contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) soon after these administrative abuses began.
"Freedom of the press and the freedom to distribute literature are vital liberties that should not be denied to JHU students," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Theft and confiscation of a newspaper threaten the very marketplace of ideas upon which a university depends and should be condemned, not accepted."
TCR's May issue contained an article objecting to a recent campus appearance by pornographic film director Chi Chi LaRue. The cover photo pictured LaRue along with members of JHU's Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA) student group, which hosted the event. The pictured DSAGA members were apparently displeased to see their pictures on the newspaper's front page, and some have filed harassment charges against TCR staffers.
On May 14, approximately 600 copies of TCR that had been distributed to the library the previous day went missing. TCR editor Jered Ede attempted to report the theft, but told FIRE that a security officer and the Dean of Student Life both said that the missing papers did not constitute theft. Ede then learned that TCR would no longer be allowed to distribute in dorms and that administrators had confiscated 300 copies. Previously, TCR and numerous other publications-including the liberal Hopkins Donkey-had regularly been distributed in JHU dorms, some of which even have distribution racks expressly for this purpose.
TCR staffers contacted FIRE, which wrote in protest to JHU president William Brody on May 19. JHU counsel Frederick Savage defended JHU's actions by saying that student publications are subject to the posting policy, which demands that posters and fliers be approved by the Office of Residential Life before being posted in dorms. Savage wrote to FIRE, "Although it is not explicitly stated in the policy, by long standing practice the Office of Residential Life has applied the [posting] policy to student publications."
"This is a shocking and disturbing admission, if true," commented Lukianoff. "Not only would such a policy subject student newspapers to prior official review, but it appears to have been selectively enforced to silence unpopular opinions. By granting its officials the unfettered power to 'approve' newspapers, JHU is giving them the power to arbitrarily censor."
Savage's letter to FIRE also stated that since TCR "is free of charge and there is no limitation on the number of copies one can take, any charge of theft would be difficult to sustain." Newspaper theft, however, is a prevalent form of mob censorship, which should be anathema at any institution that values free speech. Furthermore, after a 1994 rash of newspaper thefts at colleges across Maryland -including JHU-the state passed a law making newspaper theft illegal.
Newspaper theft is not the only threat to college and university student press freedom, which has increasingly come under attack by administrators. FIRE reported last year that Stetson University in Florida banned the distribution of the conservative student publication Common Sense because it contained a joke from the Tonight Show that administrators claimed "targeted" minority students. Stetson administrators even tried to jeopardize the paper's financial stability by scaring off its advertisers. FIRE's involvement, however, pressured Stetson to abandon its ban on Common Sense, securing the paper's right to publish without administrative interference.
"FIRE will continue to fight until student press freedom is safe from administrators who encourage or permit censorship to take place. JHU's indifference to freedom of the press is disgraceful. JHU students deserve better," concluded Lukianoff.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty at Johns Hopkins University can be viewed at thefire.org/jhu.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
William Brody, President, Johns Hopkins University: 410-516-8068; email@example.com
Susan Boswell, Dean of Student Life, Johns Hopkins University: 410-516-8208; firstname.lastname@example.org