Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Wildcats Tamed by Moot Standing

By Shawn Healy
In a case I wrote about last December, two former students of the Kansas State Collegian lost their First Amendment struggle with the university over the firing of former advisor Ron Johnson for the newspaper's alleged lack of diversity coverage. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals failed to even consider the merits of the case, ruling instead that the since-graduated students lack standing to file suit since they are no longer threatened by administrative censorship.

The precedent applies only to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming, but can be cited elsewhere and thus threatens collegiate student press rights nationally. Moreover, because of the lengthy process typical of court challenges to violations of civil liberties, most student challenges would be effectively mitigated by graduation, enabling more extensive censorship by college administrators.

The Student Press Law Center does point to a few streaks of sunlight in the decision. First of all, the appeals court ruling negates an "awful" lower court decision in favor of administrative censorship. Second, the ruling specifies a process by which student journalists may challenge such interference, namely by including the editor of the paper in the suit, adding the current editor (assuming the former moved on) to the mix, and to ask for declaratory relief along with minimal monetary damages at the outset.

Once again, when viewed alongside the 2005 Hosty decision, student press rights are increasingly in peril at the collegiate level. My May 2007 article on editorial cartooning on campuses only cements this point. At a time when future journalists should be entrusted with the responsibilities of their professional counterparts, and when the students themselves test the boundaries of acceptability, they are roped in by administrators hostile to the concept of a free press and courts' willingness to justify their actions.


Post a Comment

<< Home


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at