The American Association of University Professors released a report today on the freedoms of student press, and it does not look good. Student publications that portray their institution in anything but a positive light risk censorship, budget cuts, and–for faculty advisers–firings. By forcibly blurring the lines between journalism and marketing, administrations across the country are limiting the ability of students to accurately report on their lives, and that can have real consequences.
“It has become disturbingly routine for student journalists and their advisers to experience overt hostility that threatens their ability to inform the campus community and, in some instances, imperils their careers or the survival of their publications,” the report reads. It compiles recent examples of faculty adviser firings, defunded journalism programs, and denials of access to student journalists, arguing that the resistance to critical reporting is widespread and varied.
There’s certainly a case to be made for a free campus press in the abstract, about how honest reporting is a cornerstone of democracy and critically examining power structures is vital to education, but there are more concrete, urgent reasons that administrations need to stop censoring student newspapers. 2015’s highly visible campus protests about racial inequality show both that colleges regularly fail their marginalized students and that administrators are not always eager to hear about it, which gives student journalists the important task of demanding justice for the student body. But when universities can shut down or hamstring journalists in a number of ways, that task comes at great risk.