On August 28 Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger signed Assembly Bill 2581, which further protects freedom of the press for California college and university newspapers.
The bill, which will take effect as state law in January of next year, is an amendment to an existing law, section 66301 of the California Education Code, which states that no student can be punished by his or her college or university based solely on speech or any other type of communication that when used outside of college is protected by the First Amendment.
The current California law also states that any student who feels he or she has been denied these rights has reason to take the violation to court.
Assembly Bill 2581 will add the prohibition of any administrator of any campus of those California colleges or universities from making or enforcing any rule to justify the punishment of a student based solely on speech or other communication that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.
The author of AB 2581, Leland Yee, was inspired to create the new law by a case at Governors State University in Illinois. The university newspaper, The Innovator, had experienced break-ins in the student newspaper room, and two editors, Jenni Porche and Margaret Hosty, had asked the administration to change the locks. The administration, fearing the release of a particular article, conveniently waited until the paper was due to print and then never gave Hosty, the editor-in-chief, a copy of the key.
The Illinois student newspaper staff was locked out for five weeks. The University later asked Hosty and Porche to resign their positions, which were later stripped from them by the Student Communications Media Board. The two girls filed a lawsuit against GSU in January, claiming the university had violated their first amendment rights. Although it was part of the university’s policy to have “administrative approval” before the newspaper went to print, the Dean of Student Affairs of Governors State University had prevented the printing of the entire newspaper for the sake of one article.
The new California bill will keep our state colleges and universities from creating or enforcing similar rules. In other words, what a student reporter writes will go to print without being filtered by administrative rules and regulations. Legislative support for such freedom of press on California colleges and universities was strong. Before going before the governor to sign, the bill passed in the California Senate with a 31-2 vote, in favor of AB 2581.
Yee said, “College journalists deserve the same protections as any other journalists. Having true freedom of the press is essential on college campuses, and it is a fundamental part of a young journalist’s training for the real world.”
Yee added that allowing a college administration to censor a student newspaper is contrary to our democratic process and prevents the newspaper from serving as the watchdog over the actions of college administrators.
The Prospector’s editor-in-chief Ron Cline said he was happy to hear that the governor had signed the Assembly Bill into law. “It’s always a positive when a free speech bill is passed,” Cline said. “Section 66301 (of the Education Code) contained loopholes that this new bill will close, and in my opinion it will encourage college journalists to deliver a censor-free story, without limits or bias.”