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June 16, 2003
College Newspaper Fight
Lands in Courthouse

By Mike Robinson

        NEW 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 last year.
     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 of Albany.
     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 on campus.
     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.


©2003 Associated Press.
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