College Media Association (CMA) representative Kathy Lawrence McCarty addressed members of the Texas state senate Jan. 31 to defend freedom of the student press on college campuses.

McCarty, a past president of CMA and retired adviser for student media at the University of Texas Austin and the University of Alabama, told senators, “Universities training both journalists and consumers of the media have an obligation to help them understand that freedom of expression is a cornerstone of the democracy.”

The hearing at Texas State University follows the publication of a controversial opinion piece by the student newspaper in November 2017 that resulted in 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.

In the midst of the controversy, CMA stepped up in defense of the student paper, The University Star, and joined in a nationwide protest of free speech infringement.

In her presentation to the senate committee, McCarty addressed freedom of the student press on college campuses and what happened at Texas State after the publication of a controversial opinion column on the subject of race.

“The student staff members were met with public criticism from the University administration, and when student editors and staff members received death threats in the aftermath, there was no public administrative condemnation of these responses,” she said in public testimony. “The student body president also called for what clearly would be an unconstitutional cut-off of student fee funding for the newspaper.

“There were important educational opportunities that were lost here after that publication and valuable lessons about the subject of race relations on campus that could have benefited all concerned.”

She continued: “We understand that we may not always like what we read, listen to or view. CMA feels that universities training both journalists and consumers of the media have an obligation to help them understand that freedom of expression is a cornerstone of the democracy. As far as CMA is concerned, the students at The Star had every right to run the column, and, as uncomfortable as it is sometimes, student media shine a light on campus in places where such beacons may be needed. Decades of case law support CMA’s position.”

McCarty said the hearing was in front of a standing-room audience at Texas State. Other speakers during the five-hour meeting included the student newspaper editor, the columnist who wrote the controversial piece, the Texas State University president, and a representative from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Other attorneys and administrators from many of the state universities and private colleges in Texas addressed their free speech policies on campus. 

Any legislation as a result of this hearing is not expected until the next legislative session in 2019. Members of the Texas Senate committee included Chair Joan Huffman, Vice Chair Bryan Hughes, and Senators Brian Birdwell, Brandon Creighton, Craig Estes, Eddie Lucio, Jr., Jane Nelson, Charles Schwertner, and Judith Zaffirini.

CMA President Chris Evans said that CMA would continue to monitor events at Texas State University and the conversation about issues of free speech in the state.

“We’re encouraged that Texas legislators are taking this issue so seriously,” Evans said. “We will continue to help in any way that we can to protect student press freedom at Texas State and elsewhere.” 

CMA is a professional association of hundreds of media advisers and their students, representing some 500 colleges and universities across the country. For more information, visit collegemedia.org.

Contact: Chris Evans

President, College Media Association

collegemediaorg@gmail.com