Letter from the Editor: First Amendment applies to public institutions

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It is a good day when students’ rights win out, and Dixie Sun News tallied a recent victory—but not without some lessons learned.

If you haven’t already heard, our Jan. 11 publication of the column “Erotic Topic,” which tackles the serious subject of sex in college in an educational and entertaining way, caught the attention of Dixie State College’s administration.

It wasn’t long after Katie McKellar’s column went online that we received an email from the dean of business and communication telling us he had “editorial control” over what is published in Dixie Sun News, and he demanded the column be taken offline and our publication not run any similar columns in the future.

I have to be honest; I felt personally attacked. The letter wasn’t even written to me. In fact, the major brunt of the force was put on our academic adviser and the author of the column. This started a fire in me that would be hard to put out; I felt the need to step up to the plate and fight for two people who shouldn’t be taking the blame for anything. After all, it is the editor-in-chief’s responsibility to scrutinize what goes to print and what doesn’t. 

As far as we’ve been made aware, a student’s parent made some complaints to the highest administration level, and we believe the higher-ups were trying to save face and stop a scandal before it started.

Fortunately, with DSC being a public institution, Dixie Sun News retains the same legal protections as any publication. So when our First Amendment rights appeared to be hanging by a thread, there began a scandal of a different sort.

I personally was prepared to fight to the end against censorship. I envisioned a long and weary battle against the administration, which I have come to respect during my time as editor-in-chief. I was predicting severed ties, possible legal actions, and maybe even a resignation. But one thing was for certain: I was not going to allow censorship of our publication.

I drafted an independent Facebook poll, which is still available at Facebook.com/TheSkewedReview, to gauge readers’ thoughts on the column. I asked all the editors at Dixie Sun News to share the column so the numbers wouldn’t be skewed. I was happy to see an overwhelming number of supporters for the column.

So I felt justified in making a case.

I began gathering all the evidence I could to support Dixie Sun News’ right to publish an article on sex. After all, we weren’t making any defamatory statements. We weren’t reporting false news. We weren’t making accusations. I was armed to the teeth with precedent from schools across the country, and I was just about to program the ACLU’s number into my favorites on my iPhone.

I was even ready to quote DSC President Steven Nadauld himself from the Jan. 18 board of trustees meeting where he discussed, at length, how DSC is an institution where students can “…learn, grow, mature and enter the world ready to take on any challenge ahead of them.” 

What better way to prove to the community that we, as adult college students, can “enter the world ready to take on any challenge,” than by discussing adult facts? Even if we don’t like the idea of sexuality, we cannot simply hit the delete button and expect it to go away.

But I wasn’t giving our administration the credit it deserves. As it turns out, the dean of business and communication was undertaking similar research projects. We received a follow-up email with an apology and an acknowledgment that it was indeed our right as a journalistic entity to publish the column.

So where do we go from here?

Besides the reinforcement of Dixie Sun News’, and therefore each students’, First Amendment rights, this controversy also helped us realize what our readers are looking for in a column of this nature. After all, it isn’t our intention to simply publish material on sensitive subjects just because we can. We know there should be purpose behind the print.

We take our jobs as journalists very seriously. We know we have a responsibility to the DSC community to be factual, relevant, informative, timely and, yes, entertaining. Our intention has always been, and always will be, to report on news, sports, entertainment, lifestyles and opinions that affect DSC students. 

And yes, we are also learning along the way. This small scuffle has given us the opportunity to delve into a highly ignored culture on campus. We have heard from many voices along the way, and we realize there is a majority who do believe McKellar’s column should stay.

But we’ve also listened to those who took issue with the subject.

Over the next few weeks, there will be some adjustments made according to the information we’ve received already from our readers and from the information we will be gathering.

I want to thank everyone for the support shown to us during this short, but trying, battle. Rest assured that we will always be prepared to be “The Voice of Dixie State College.” We will never be the voice the anyone or anything else.

—Matthew J. Jacobson

Dixie Sun News Editor-in-Chief