University of Southern California

The Presses Won’t Stop Just Yet: Shaping Student Speech Rights in the Wake of Hazelwood’s Application to Colleges

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Note by Jeff Sklar
From Volume 80, Number 3 (March, 2007)

As word of the decision in Hosty v. Carter spread in the summer of 2005, many college journalists were outraged. To them, it was the end of free speech as they knew it. In Hosty, the en banc Seventh Circuit became the first court to apply in a college the framework of the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood case, which for nearly twenty years had given high school administrators wide latitude to restrict the content of student-run newspapers. As a result, many college journalists believed they were powerless against university presidents and deans, who they believed could charge into their newsrooms, lock up their computers, and even stop their presses – all with the blessing of the First Amendment.

In truth, the outrage did not begin with Hosty. It began seventeen years earlier with the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In Hazelwood, the Supreme Court held that in high schools, where school-sponsored student speech does not occur in a public forum, the school may regulate the content of that speech for reasons that are “reasonably related” to any of a range of “legitimate pedagogical concerns.” Thus, many people believed Hazelwood gave high school administrators near free reign to stop students from participating in one of our nation’s most sacred traditions – a free and independent press. And in Hazelwood, the Supreme Court explicitly left open the possibility that the case’s analytical framework might be applied to student publications in colleges too. But until June 2005, no court had dared to do so. Hosty was the first.

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