Opinion

CNM Violates Its Student Newspaper’s First Amendment Rights

By Marisa Demarco

— Any journalist not outraged over CNM’s censorship of its student newspaper is in the wrong business.

Freedom of the press is protected in the United States Constitution, in Amendment One, the same that enshrines free speech. Journalism and the right to express ideas—even unpopular ones—have been fundamentally entwined for hundreds of years in this country.

Jyllian Roach, editor-in-chief of The Chronicle, says when the administration at Central New Mexico Community College began pulling papers out of the racks yesterday, she was astonished. “The administration of CNM and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on things,” she says. “But I always thought they treated the freedom of press and speech as sacrosanct. They just ripped that away.”

Picture 1Chronicle staff began planning a sexuality issue months ago. Then word came that the Supreme Court would be hearing cases on Proposition 8 (a California ballot measure defining marriage as heterosexual) and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The student journalists decided to publish their package this week.

It includes an eight-person roundtable discussion of what it’s like to live in Albuquerque as a lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or straight person. There’s a piece on abstinence, and local statistics about virginity, pregnancy and STDs. The feature also explores the use and sanitation of sex toys.

The final feature page is about BDSM—an increasingly mainstream topic with the advent of 50 Shades of Grey. This article is intended to be informative and less romanticized than the popular novel, Roach says, breaking down the basics about terminology and safety. A listing of sexuality resources rounds out the issue. Read the whole thing. (It’s taking off like wildfire as news of the paper’s suspension spreads.)

“There are no expletives in this issue. There are no nude photos. It doesn’t take a tongue-in-cheek look at sex,” Roach says. “This issue was written entirely for educational purposes.”

She was called into the Dean of Students Office at about 2:30 p.m. yesterday, just hours after the issue hit stands, she says. She was informed that CNM was temporarily suspending the newspaper, and its staff would be relocated to other work-study positions. Shortly thereafter, she says, she got an email from a friend about representatives from the college yanking issues from the stands.

Decrying the content of a student publication is one thing. But for a college administration to rip papers from the racks is extreme censorship—and a bumbling violation of the First Amendment.

Roach learned her office would be locked down, but she could hold an emergency meeting. When she broke the news to her staff, “everyone scattered and tried to round up as many copies as possible.” The Chronicle usually prints 2,500 issues. The staff guesses they salvaged about 400 copies, and about 100 managed to circulate.

Brad Moore, CNM spokesperson, told the Albuquerque Journal that the sexuality issue is part of an ongoing “pattern of concern with the content.” Roach says she had run-ins with the administration over a series of articles about a history instructor who was fired.

The paper’s staff is paid with work-study money. The Chronicle also gets a portion of student fees, Roach tells me, and it raises its own revenue through advertising to cover printing costs.

Regardless of where the funding comes from, public colleges that allow students to serve as editors of school papers are limited in their ability to censor, according to the Student Press Law Center. Confiscating copies of publications has been prohibited by the courts, as is suspending editors or withdrawing financial support.

Roach is hoping CNM will sit down with the student journalists tomorrow, and that cooler heads will prevail. “By shutting down the paper, even for just a week, they’re silencing the student voice.”

0857-printing-press-stampA CNM statement indicates that a lack of journalism training and supervision prompted the college to suspend The Chronicle. Roach says staff members work hard to train themselves, and it has paid off. Just a few weeks ago, the paper earned a third-place award for Best in Show at the Associated Collegiate Press Journalism Conference. “A lot of people think we’re doing it right.”

CNM students, faculty and staff—along with other free speech supporters and fellow journos—should speak out in support of restoring The Chronicle. Independent media will only survive as long as there are people willing to stand up for it.

As the Supreme Court once said: “Students do not shed their constitutional rights … at the schoolhouse gate.”

7 thoughts on “CNM Violates Its Student Newspaper’s First Amendment Rights

  1. I’m not for either side really careless, but you left out the striking blow to this article for your Freedom of Speech rant,. Hazelwood 1988, newspaper was the property of the school and not the students and you can’t force someone to publish something against their will.

    • Hey Billy, I just wanted to note that the Hazelwood decision only applies to elementary – high school student publications. Post-secondary issues are entirely separate and have basically the same rights as a professional publication.

  2. Yesterday, the administration returned the confiscated newspapers and restored the staff.

    http://www.splc.org/news/newsflash.asp?id=2553

    As to the assertion that the Chronicle staff should be better-trained, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center said this:

    “The First Amendment thankfully doesn’t protect only speech by people that the government subjectively decides, after reviewing their writing, are adequately trained to please the government,” LoMonte said. “If there is anyone in desperate need of training, it’s the administration and legal staff at CNMCC, who need to go back and retake high school civics.”

    —Marisa

  3. Hi Marisa,

    Brad Moore hit it on the head, it was content of the Chronicle that CNM management wanted to censor. And what was that they would not say directly but many know.

    The Chronicle has been a big supporter of us part-time faculty who have been struggling for better pay more hours and better working conditions (many of us have a pay rate of what is miminum wage and no office, we work out of the back of our cars where we carry our files).

    But the main content problem for the coal mine bosses running CNM was the recent front page article on the status of union activst Steve Cormier who was fired on a sham pretext. The Chronicle supported fairness in defending Steve Cormier and this was too much for the president Kathy Winograd who wrote to the paper to stop this kind of content converage.

    It is likely she and the governing board took this step to try to silence the paper and it backfired with a near civil war on the campus and in the city.

    But unfortunately the mayor got away with his silencing content on Cable Ch 27 (Quote, Unquote) and we lost that venue for free speech. There are so many of these kinds of right wing attacks on democracy now and I think they are all emboldened by the president’s drones and secret kill list of people the administration does not like speaking out against our foreign policy. There is a connection between what Obama, Berry and Winograd have done, imo.

    CNM management has no credibility in the eyes of the community anymore, zero – none after this latest caper. In the real world the president of CNM would be looking for another job about this time.
    Thanks for defending the Chronicle. I was hoping the Journal would go out of print too like the Daily Lobo in solidarity (one can hope).

    I think the CHSS faculty were moving toward a walk-out in support. The actiity around this was like a CNM Spring or Occupy movement. It really helped unite a lot of faculty who were on the sidelines of activism.

    What we have to watch for is an attempt by the administrators to let the staff resume the paper but with a big brother censor having to clear things first. If this happens I hope the Chronicle staff alerts everyone. That could be the hidden subtext with their talk of professional help. if it is we will have to do this all over again. But we are all better prepared now.

    ——

    Say, what is the Compass? Where does one get it?

    Thanks,
    Bob Anderson, part-time faculty slave
    CNM Political Science Dept.

  4. CNM’s response to the Journal’s sexuality issue is even more tawdry than any editorial I can imagine – I must have an issue! Why are people so invested in censoring sexuality? Isn’t there enough genuine ugliness and injustice in the world worth protesting anymore? This is similar to when the photographic work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano effectively ended NEA funding for individual artists. The argument boiled down to tax payer money helping produce and promote material that insults the values of people like Jesse Helms, and the Christian American Family Association. This is a dangerous slippery slope, however, because there’s all sorts of bad people doing bad things using good roads that we all paid for with our tax money.

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