Monday, May 24, 2010

Censorship By FERPA

UPDATE: The judge has now banned two newspapers with no connection to the college from running stories about the incident, which is an astonishing act of judicial misconduct. This is all a misinterpretation of FERPA, and even if it wasn't, FERPA doesn't overturn the First Amendment. Apparently the restraining order on the non-student newspapers has been dissolved.

The censorship of a student newspaper in the name of FERPA by Laramie County Community College shows how ridiculous the abuse of FERPA's provisions has become. FERPA was intended to protect students by requiring colleges to keep some information about these student private. Now it's being used to ban a newspaper from embarrassing the college's president with the truth. That's something FERPA was absolutely never intended to do.

First of all, there's no basis for the argument that the newspaper was going to publish any information about students that would violate their privacy. Prior restraint requires a very strong hurdle to overcome, and this doesn't even come close.

Second, student newspapers are not part of the university. The student newspaper represents an independent voice, not the official word of the administration. Therefore, what the student newspaper does not create a litigation threat for the university. This has been determined in student newspaper cases where the college does not face a defamation suit for what the newspaper publishes--unless the college intervenes to control the content of the newspaper.

So not only are the FERPA rules inconsistent with this case, the FERPA rules cannot apply to student newspapers.

It's bad enough that college administrators are suing their own student newspaper to suppress legitimate news. It's even worse that a judge is helping them censor the press.

No comments: