My Take: La Salle University’s Student Newspaper Censorship Against School’s Stated Mission

As outlined in my previous post, La Salle University, a private Roman Catholic school in Philadelphia, is currently in the spotlight for attempting to stonewall its student newspaper from publishing an embarrassing story. Editors at The La Salle University Collegian fought the university’s censorious activity, in part through a creative protest published on the current issue’s front page.

My Take: As a private university, La Salle has the legal right to censor its student newspaper. Just as I have the legal right to call such censorship asinine and so completely out of touch with the spirit of free speech and the free press it makes one wonder how the school is maintaining its accreditation. OK, I’m calm again.

As a Philly native, I can confirm that locals will forgive violent wrongs — just look at our football team’s starting quarterback. But the rehabilitation must begin immediately. Start with a confession. School officials must admit they were wrong to censor. They must plaster the phrase “See below the fold” in every classroom and administrative office as a reminder that attempted whitewashing of the university’s sins is in no one’s best interests. (It’s also not Catholic.)

Next, stop all censorship. Beyond explaining the stripper story delay, an editorial in the current issue of the Collegian outlines an array of censorious actions undertaken by the administration — prior review of all Collegian content, delayed publishing of content online (specifically, a print-first requirement), a refusal to allow Collegian stories to be hyped via social media, and forced delays of other sensitive stories.

La Salle’s tagline: “Never Stop Exploring.” Is the unstated addendum: Unless it interferes with our reputation? Part of La Salle’s mission statement: “The university has, as its basic purpose, the free search for truth by teaching its students the basic skills, knowledge and values that they will need for a life of human dignity.” Free search for truth, huh? Allow your student journalists to practice what you preach, please.

Finally, find a new Collegian adviser. The guy currently in the position is a PR instructor with no student press advising experience and apparently no understanding of the news media’s role in society. His explanation of the school’s censorship of the stripper story: “This is a private university. La Salle publishes the paper and is responsible for its contents. There was never resistance to the idea of doing the story, only to publishing it prematurely.”

Sure, and Donald Trump is running for president. Let’s get real. The school did not resist the story because it feared it would be run prematurely (whatever that even means). It resisted the story because it was embarrassing and placed the school in a bad light, one it hoped might not shine as bright if the piece was made untimely and hidden below the fold.

As Collegian editor T.J. McCarrick argues in an editorial headlined, simply, “Censored,” “The disappointing reality is that universities most often censor stories whose message they disagree with, regardless of anything else. … [T]he very same institutions charged with promoting discussion and thoughtful discourse, find themselves doing just the [opposite], performing the dirty job of limiting the free exchange of ideas on the most important of topics. I can only hope, in time, colleges will begin to err on the side of full and free dialogue.”

Bravo to the Collegian staff for sticking up for their rights to a free press and the free search for truth.

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