Ann Papagiotas: Censoring student paper may violate state law
Censorship of student newspapers, though unjustified, is hardly unusual. But the case of the Witches’ Brew, at Salem (Massachusetts) High School, goes considerably beyond the customary repression of students’ opinions.
Consider, for example, the fact that the Witches’ Brew had been published for three years without a problem. Then, last fall, a new principal, Ann Papagiotas, arrived at Salem High School. And suddenly, publication was delayed pending her review. Ultimately she decided not to let the paper be printed unless pieces complaining about her newly instituted bans on wearing hats and eating in class, as well a lament about the low state of student morale, were changed.
Or consider that the paper’s faculty adviser, journalism teacher Pamela Hebert, felt compelled to resign, writing to Papagiotas, "I am too nervous to take the risk of continuing with the school newspaper."
Or consider that Papagiotas — who’s backed by superintendent Herb Levine and Mayor Stan Usovicz — may be violating a 1988 state law that prohibits censorship of student newspapers except in cases where "disruption or disorder within the school" might result.
Or — finally — consider that when senior Todd Graham, a former co-editor of the Witches’ Brew, posted a message on an Internet bulletin board protesting what had happened to the paper, he was suspended for seven days. Graham wrote: "I haven’t been in class for the last couple of days due to being sick to my stomach because of the school and what this is turning into. When I get my chance I will show everyone how I feel. I have never held back before, and I won’t start now." Papagiotas, choosing to interpret Graham’s intention to speak out as a Columbine-style threat, ordered a lockdown and notified Salem Police.
And though Papagiotas, enabled and supported by her superiors, is the real culprit here, what on earth is up with local columnist Taylor Armerding? For months, the Salem News provided voluminous coverage of the controversy over the Witches’ Brew. It was the News’s Ben Casselman who first reported that Papagiotas’s censorious policy might be a violation of state law. Yet on May 19 Armerding, who writes for the Eagle-Tribune papers, among them the News, weighed in on the side of the administration. Armerding mocked the students and spat out the phrase "American Civil Liberties Union" — which is threatening legal action against the city on the students’ behalf — as though he were George H.W. Bush trying to score points against Michael Dukakis.
"At real newspapers, there is no such thing as unfettered free speech, either," Armerding wrote. "Most publishers or owners of newspapers review the editorials that are going to appear in their papers. If these kids think nobody should be able to review what they write, they need to start their own Internet blog, not write for the school newspaper." (Uh, Taylor: see reference to Graham, Todd, op. cit.)
Armerding is correct up to a point. But Ann Papagiotas isn’t the publisher of the Witches’ Brew; the citizens of Salem are. The state legislature, acting on behalf of the taxpayers, spelled out very specific rules for censoring student newspapers — rules that Papagiotas appears to have ignored. Besides, the students’ work was already reviewed by a faculty adviser.
Armerding depends on the First Amendment to make a living. For him to sneer at kids who are trying to claim their own First Amendment rights isn’t just wrong; it’s kind of revolting.
Donald Rumsfeld: Defense chief forces his way onto campuses
Ten years ago Congress passed a law, known as the Solomon Amendment, that requires colleges and universities to allow military recruiters on campus. But it was only after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that the Defense Department began aggressively to enforce it. Aiming at law schools, which generally prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and — significantly — sexual orientation, the Defense Department threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance if those schools refused to make an exception to their anti-discrimination policies for the sake of the military.
Why give a Muzzle to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? Because he’s the defendant in a lawsuit over the policy, called FAIR v. Rumsfeld. And what’s the local connection? The president of the organization bringing the case, the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), is a professor at Boston College Law School, Kent Greenfield. (Boston College is not a party to the lawsuit.)
"Imagine if the government took away the driver’s license of anyone who opposed pay raises for government bureaucrats," Greenfield wrote in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post last November. "Imagine if it cut off Social Security benefits to retirees who protested the Iraq war. Suppose it withheld a university’s cancer research funds because the school refused to support the military’s policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians.
"That last example isn’t imaginary — it’s the law of the land."
How effective has Rumsfeld’s crusade been? According to a Boston Globe account, law schools at Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Yale, Columbia, and New York University have backed down rather than risk losing their federal funding. And officials at a number of institutions are so fearful of retribution that Greenfield has said he cannot release the names of schools that have joined FAIR. He told the Globe only that FAIR is a nationwide organization whose membership is "not in the hundreds, but not tiny, either."
Two years ago, we awarded a Dishonorable Mention to Harvard University for refusing to allow military recruiters on campus. In going after Rumsfeld now, we believe we are being consistent.
If everyone’s free-speech rights were respected, then colleges and universities would not attempt to muzzle the military, and the military would not use constitutionally dubious laws to force its way on to campuses. That’s the way the free marketplace of ideas is supposed to work. Sadly, in this instance, neither side respects the other’s right to be heard.
Dan Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com. Read his daily "Media Log" at BostonPhoenix.com.page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6
Issue Date: July 2 - 8, 2004
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