Two free-speech groups have urged Los Angeles City College officials to stop censoring student journalists, describing the administration as one of the worst offenders in recent memory.
The Student Press Law Center and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education outlined their complaints in a Jan. 15 letter to college officials. The letter describes “roadblocks, hostility and threats directed at Collegian journalists” by LACC President Jamillah Moore’s administration. The letter was written to LACC Board of Trustees President Mona Field.
For all of its faults, Los Angeles City College’s student newspaper is clearly serving its students well. LACC should he applauding its tenacious, serious, award-winning group of student journalists, students who are committed to telling the truth even when it brings the animus of their supposed educators. ... The Collegian must remain editorially independent. With the school’s accreditation already in jeopardy, this is a perilous time for LACC to take its moral and legal obligations lightly.
Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who has been tracking the issue in LA, has called for an investigation into possible violations of student journalists' rights, the Student Press Law Center said.
In response to the complaints, one city college official downplayed the seriousness of the charges, given the school's other problems. The LA Times reports: "Student Services Vice President Lawrence Bradford acknowledged the tensions between student journalists and administrators, but called it a distraction as the college copes with accreditation and financial problems."
The story describes some of the incidents that advocates say hindered free speech:
- Collegian reporter Mars Melnicoff used her cellphone to record a July 16 public meeting about the college's accreditation problems. After the meeting, the letter alleges, Moore told Melnicoff she would have to sign a release before she could use her own recording.
- In September, the administration cut the paper's printing budget by 40 percent. After Yee's office called the college to express concern, administration officials said the 40 percent reduction was a mistake and changed it to 16 percent.
- Administrators tried to retaliate against an employee they thought had leaked the budget document to the Collegian. A department chairperson, Daniel Marlos, received a memo warning that he could be disciplined for “giving documents to people who are not involved in the decision-making business of the college or district,” the letter alleges. The warning memo was rescinded after Marlos denied releasing the document.
There are a few more incidents described in the letter as well. Moore incorrectly told Guess that video and photos taken on campus would require releases, the letter claims. The letter alleges that when Melnicoff was working on a story about academic fraud in the basketball program, the coach said to her: “How long have you been at LACC? If you want to stay here, I highly recommend that you drop this story.”
And when Collegian reporters tried to interview workers with a construction company on campus, the journalists were told that Moore had barred the workers from speaking with reporters, the letter says. In addition, the college has proposed moving the Collegian under the supervision of student affairs, where students would be counseled by the vice president of that department. The advocacy groups tend to think this will lead to mandatory pre-publication “counseling” on content.
“No institution in SPLC’s recent memory has attempted censorship as persistently or with as many diverse methods as Los Angeles City College," the letter reads.
It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction LACC has to the call for changes.
As Greg Lukianoff explains, American schools have had a long history of censorship, not just with student newspapers. Just this month, the 9,000-student Menifee Union School District in Southern California formed a panel to discuss banning dictionaries that contain definitions of sexual acts. Lukianoff opens his story with this example:
In 2007 a student working his way through college was found guilty of racial harassment for reading a book in public. Some of his co-workers had been offended by the book’s cover, which included pictures of men in white robes and peaked hoods along with the tome’s title, Notre Dame vs. the Klan. The student desperately explained that it was an ordinary history book, not a racist tract, and that it in fact celebrated the defeat of the Klan in a 1924 street fight. Nonetheless, the school, without even bothering to hold a hearing, found the student guilty of openly reading [a] book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject.