Research – Don’t Press the Panic Button Yet

An Analysis of Federal Student Press Law Cases at the University Level

By David R. Wheeler
The University of Tampa

Although some student press advocates are concerned about recent decisions curtailing the speech and press rights of college students, First Amendment protections for postsecondary school students are on much firmer footing than are protections for K-12 students.

The 1960 and 1970s: Students and Editorial Control

The birth of college press freedom began even before Tinker, when an Alabama federal district court in 1967 ruled in favor of a student editor in Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education.  In Dickey, a disagreement over content in the student newspaper resulted in student editor Gary Dickey’s suspension from Troy State University.[1]  Dickey wrote an editorial commenting on the governor and state legislature’s insistence that no articles be published that were critical of them.  The president of the university, Dr. Frank Rose, disagreed with this policy, and Dickey wanted to write an article supporting the president.  As the court noted:

It is without controversy in this case that the basis for the denial of Dickey’s right to publish his editorial supporting Dr. Rose was a rule that had been invoked at Troy State College to the effect that there could be no editorials written in the school paper which were critical of the Governor of the State of Alabama or the Alabama Legislature. The rule did not prohibit editorials or articles of a laudatory nature concerning the Governor or the Legislature.[2]

Dickey was told by his adviser that he could not publish the column.  Instead, Dickey decided to run a blank space in place of the article with the word “censored.”  For this action, Dickey was suspended, and he subsequently took his case to federal court, claiming a violation of his First Amendment rights.  In ordering that Dickey be allowed to return to the school, the district court judge said: Continue reading Research – Don’t Press the Panic Button Yet