College Paper’s Printing Contract Causes Censorship Dispute

Is it censorship or just the enforcement of a policy that had for too long gone overlooked? An intriguing debate has surfaced at California’s Southwestern College over school officials’ sudden interest in how its campus newspaper is selecting its printer.

As The San Diego Union-Tribune (via Inside Higher Ed) reports: “The issue arises from the administration’s discovery of a 1990 policy that requires the newspaper to put its printing business out to competitive bid and sign a contract with the winning bidder, in accord with the college’s standard procedures.  Both sides acknowledge that the policy has not been followed or enforced for at least 15 years. But the administration has now told the students that they must not publish another print edition until they comply.”

The paper’s faculty adviser and student editors are crying foul over the timing of administrators’ must-bid requirement, saying it may be an attempt to stop publication of some highly-charged local election stories the staff are putting to bed.  The adviser: “They are trying to use this now to deter us from printing our first issue of the semester.  I’m suspicious because the students have been out doing their work, talking to developers, talking to board candidates, about where campaign contributions are going. They ask a lot of hot questions.”

Admins. strongly deny any sort of censorship, stating the paper is free to publish online at all times and can begin again in print once all the bids are in and a printer has been selected.

My take: Based on the facts presented in the press, I’d label the school’s behavior as inconsiderate and suspicious but not censorious.  No one seems to be arguing about the validity of the policy or the fact that it has been on the books for two decades.   It is the sudden and uncompromising nature of administrators’ enforce-at-all-costs mentality that has the paper’s staff and student press advocates worried.

Under the circumstances, should administrators wait until the semester break or even next summer to enforce the policy?  Yes.  Truly, why rush?  An about-face after two decades should come with fair warning and some lead time.  And that way, there won’t be even the slightest stench of censorship in the air.

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