College Media Association will take a stand in support of press freedom Wednesday, Jan. 31, when a committee of the Texas legislature holds a hearing on free speech at Texas State University.
The hearing follows the publication in November of a controversial opinion piece in the student newspaper, The University Star, that generated condemnation from the university president, a threat to cut newspaper funding from the student government president, and death threats to members of the newspaper staff.
Former CMA president Kathy Lawrence McCarty—a CMA Hall of Fame member and retired adviser at the University of Texas Austin—will address legislators on behalf of CMA at the hearing and will seek to defend the rights of the Star to have published that opinion piece.
President Chris Evans said CMA stands behind the student paper and its adviser, Laura Krantz, and supports the paper’s right to publish the controversial piece.
CMA is one of several national organizations—including the Student Press Law Center, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the National Coalition Against Censorship—to publicly support the student newspaper.
Evans reacted with guarded optimism to the scheduled state senate hearing, calling it “hopeful free-speech news.”
CMA member and adviser Robert Bergland of Missouri Western State University echoed Evans’s statement.
“While the threats to the independence and funding of the Texas State student newspaper — not to mention the death threats made to its staff members — have been disturbing, we are hoping some good can come from all of this, through the greater attention given to the First Amendment and its importance in a democracy,” said Bergland, who serves as chairman of CMA’s First Amendment Advocacy Committee.
In a letter to the university president and student body president on Dec. 12, Evans wrote, “Though we understand your concern surrounding the Nov. 28, 2017, opinion piece titled ‘Your DNA is an Abomination,’ we urge to you refrain from punitive measures against what should be an independent student media outlet.
“Threats of financial or administrative retaliation for expressions of opinion represent attempts at censorship of legally protected speech. As university leaders, you certainly could enter into conversation with Texas State’s collegiate journalists. Debate, after all, is what makes a democracy strong. However, when you seek to require the press to hew to your point of view or else be starved of funds, then you not only limit civic discourse but stray far from the democratic principles of freedom of expression.”
The hearing is to include testimony from invited speakers as well as comments from the public.
The announcement from the Texas legislature stated that the hearing by the Senate Committee on State Affairs would be to: “Ascertain any restrictions on Freedom of Speech rights that Texas students face in expressing their views on campus along with freedoms of the press, religion, and assembly. Recommend policy changes that protect First Amendment rights and enhance the free speech environment on campus.”
Evans said, “We have no way of knowing how this hearing, scheduled for Jan. 31, will go,” but, whatever the outcome, “CMA will be there to help.
“We’ll fight the good fight. We might even turn things around in one of the most conservative states in the union. And that, I believe, is hopeful.”
Contact: Chris Evans
President, College Media Association