Utah Chronicle Staffers in Trouble for Vulgar Goodbye Issue

Administrators at the University of Utah have threatened to hold the academic records, transcripts, and degrees of nine soon-to-graduate senior staffers at The Daily Utah Chronicle.  The reason: A series of editorials run in the newspaper’s goodbye issue that had a bit of less-than-subtle vulgarity squeezed into their otherwise innocuous words.

As the SPLC reports, “Since 1999, graduating seniors at the Chronicle have organized a yearly send-off prank that involves arranging drop-cap letters to spell out words in their farewell columns. This year, when placed on the page, the column’s drop-caps spelled out ‘c*nt’ and ‘penis.’ The university . . . claimed the editors were in violation of the university’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities for, ‘intentional disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings or university activities,’ and ‘unauthorized or improper use of any university property, equipment, facilities or resources.'”

According to a Deseret News report, the paper’s adviser (who recently resigned, unrelated) voiced his opposition to the wordplay when consulted, calling the term in the screenshot above particularly “indefensible.”  The Chronicle editor in chief has said in response to the brouhaha, “It wasn’t meant to be obscene or pornographic.  It was in poor taste, I’ll give you that, but it was just supposed to be a silly joke.”

My take: It might not be outright pornography, but it is definitely obscene. The students should have known better. And the adviser’s warning should have been heeded. Yet, amid the university’s apparent embarrassment, administrators need to move on. The EIC has apologized. The offending staffers are graduating. The criticisms have been heard. Lesson learned.

Most troubling about the school’s actions is their aim at an independent entity. Chronicle content does not come under administrative control- vulgar column drop-caps included.  As a letter of concern sent to Utah admins. by the SPLC and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) states, “As a public university both legally and morally bound to respect the First Amendment rights of its students, the University of Utah cannot lawfully punish students for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The school is calling the wordplay an “intentional disruption or obstruction” of university activities.  If I was planning an editorial response, my columns’ drop-caps would spell: NO DICE.  This was not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  No one’s academics or extracurriculars were held up by the columns’ printing- except now possibly the students who printed them.  But that is the fault of the school, not the students.  As the paper’s (most recent) adviser stated, “While I don’t defend [the students’] action, I will defend their right to do it forever.”

3 Responses to “Utah Chronicle Staffers in Trouble for Vulgar Goodbye Issue”
  1. Susan Morris says:

    Oh, I thought they were “graduating” from junior high, not college. Talk about arrested development!

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