June 16, 2003
College Newspaper Fight
Lands in Courthouse
By Mike Robinson
YORK -- A student publisher attending the State University of
New York at Albany has filed a lawsuit against the university
and the student government association, claiming that his First
Amendment rights were violated when the student government denied
funding to his conservative newspaper.
Scott Barea, publisher of The College
Standard, said that the Central Council, a student government
body that allocates student activity fees at the university, denied
funding to the newspaper in February because members of the council
disliked its content. According to a 2000 Supreme Court decision,
universities that use student activity fees to fund campus organizations
cannot withhold money based on the ideology of the organization.
Barea filed the suit on April 23 in U.S.
District Court in Albany to demand that Central Council provide
$4,950 to The College Standard for the 2003-2004 school year and
$550 for the May 2003 issue of the paper, which Barea said could
not be printed because of the lack of money. Barea also is requesting
that the Central Council provide the $5,862.05 that he requested
In a June 9 hearing, District Judge Thomas
J. McAvoy denied Barea’s request that Central Council fund The
College Standard pending a final outcome of the case. But Barea
said he remains confident that the court will eventually rule
in his favor.
I am completely certain that we will prevail,”
Barea said. “We are committed and prepared to go all the way to
the Supreme Court to enforce the rule of law at the University
Barea began publishing the independent
monthly newspaper in October 2002. He first went to the Central
Council in September, requesting $5,862.05 to print the newspaper
for nine months. When the Central Council did not acknowledge
the request, Barea began publishing The College Standard with
money from private donations. In February, the council voted on
the newspaper’s budget request but reduced the amount to $350.
The money was denied by a 14-6 vote.
SUNY at Albany students pay an $80 per
semester fee to the Central Council, which goes toward the student
activity budget. Central Council is responsible for dividing the
$1.7 million resulting fund among the 150 student organizations
Barea said he believes the council refused
to fund the paper because of its conservative content. In The
College Standard’s first issue, the front-page article criticized
the New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates environmental
and consumer protection and is funded in part by the Central Council.
Throughout the year, Barea said he published articles that were
critical of the administration, faculty and student government,
including an article that exposed alleged contract fraud committed
by a member of the Central Council.
Members of the Central Council said they
denied funding to the newspaper because of its factual errors.
The paper has a tendency to misquote people, said Jamie MacNamara,
last year’s chairman of the Central Council who voted to stop
funding the paper.
I have read where there have been lies
printed in it as well.According to the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court
decision in Southworth v. Board of Regents of the University of
Wisconsin System, universities using student activity fees to
finance campus groups that engage in political speech must remain
viewpoint neutral, meaning that the school or student organizations
cannot determine fee allocation based on the views of the organization.
Tom Marcelle, Barea’s lawyer, said the
Southworth decision made him confident that the court would rule
in Barea’s favor.
The Supreme Court and the lower courts
have consistently ruled that you cannot deny a speaker, in this
case The College Standard, access to a forum, in this case money,
unless the decision maker has some type of definite viewpoint
neutral criteria to apply,” Marcelle said. “There is no dispute.
There is no viewpoint neutral criteria in this case.
Marcelle argued that it is the system
at the university that allows student government to have “unbridled
discretion” that must be changed. He said there must be viewpoint
neutral guidelines that the Central Council is required to obey.
According to the university’s attorney,
Lewis Oliver, the Central Council did not discriminate against
the newspaper because of its viewpoint.
Lewis said members of Central Council
are not required to give their reasons for their vote, but he
added that he was aware of several reasons the money was denied.
There were many points that were made
in the debate, and none of them had to do with the political orientation
of the magazine,” Oliver said. “Some of them were because of the
nature of the articles. They were considered obscene by some of
the members. And some people just personally didn’t like the publisher.
Oliver said that other members of Central
Council argued that the newspaper should not be funded because
it was new to the campus and expensive to publish. Out of the
$1.7 million budget, Oliver said $3,500 was available to clubs
seeking money for the first time, and many council members felt
that money should go to other organizations.
Oliver said that he thought the content
was questionable. The newspaper reported that it was characterizing
it as conservative viewpoint, but there is a question about that.
It has a lot of sex articles in it, Oliver said.
Oliver argued that the Central Council
is now providing money to several other conservative groups on
campus, including another newspaper and a conservative student
association, and therefore was not discriminating against The
College Standard’s conservative ideology.
He added that he did not believe the
denied funding was a form of censorship because Barea still published
the newspaper after the money was denied.
Barea said he was able to publish several
issues of The College Standard through private donations but it
proved to be too expensive and he was forced to stop publication
in May. Because the court did not grant an injunction forcing
Central Council to fund the paper next year, Barea said he is
not sure he will be able to continue printing in the fall.
My involvement in this situation is to
defend not just my rights, but in fact, to defend the rights of
everybody on this campus, including liberals, conservatives, anarchists
and libertarians” Barea said, If any one interest group takes
control of the student government, then what kind of university
community do we have? Certainly not one about learning and understanding.
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