Thursday, February 15, 2007

When you mix the state and education... can sometimes get strange results. For example, at the University of Missouri at Rolla, the student newspaper is threatening to sue the state for the university's proposal to cut the paper's funding as a First Amendment violation.

The idea for the cuts apparently originated amid complaints of an inordinate number of errors in the newspaper last fall. But the paper�s editor in chief said it was clear that the university did not like articles that had criticized it. It also didn�t like the paper�s sex column.

But the fact is that the newspaper�s budget, which like that of other student groups derives from student-activity fees, is initially determined by the Student Council. The university�s chancellor and governing board only endorsed the Student Council�s recommendation for cuts.

Can a paper demand the revenues of the state -- and in this case, of student activity fees at a state institution -- through the Constitution? The paper's position seems to create an incentive to criticize the school's administration, so that any subsequent budget cut can be cited as an attempt to silence dissent.

The paper's own report says that the reasons the student government cited for its closure were "grammatical errors, opinionated content and printing too many copies." The Student Law Press Center reports that the cuts were to be to student reporter salaries, but that they've diverted money from other places, including printing smaller papers. Does the law require holding the paper and all its employees forever harmless?