WASHINGTON, DC—Decrying over 100 cases of campus newspaper seizure in three years, the National Alumni Forum today called on college and university administrations to take stronger measures to protect the freedom of the press on their campuses.
On April 2, copies of Independence Magazine were stolen from campus distribution points at George Washington University. This is the second time during the academic year that this newspaper has been vandalized. Last September, 1,500 copies were stolen. Some students have objected to the paper’s conservative point of view.
University administrators have made no public statements condemning the theft.
The Student Press Law Center reports over 100 student newspaper thefts during the past three years.
“What is truly shocking is not just that freedom of the press is violated but that administrators tolerate it,” said Jerry L. Martin, president of the National Alumni Forum. “Most colleges do not have strong policies protecting press freedom and perpetrators are rarely punished. They need to recognize that press seizure is not a prank or legitimate protest; it is a violation of everything a university should stand for.”
NAF National Council member and free-speech advocate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, has said, “What lesson does this teach students about how to live in a free society? The wrong lesson: that aggressive or illegal reactions to opposing points of view are acceptable.”
Independence Magazine editor-in-chief Nicholas Provenzo said, “The person or persons who stole our paper used force without cause or provocation. They denied us our right and our chance to make our argument.”
“Everyone who wrote an article or letter to the editor was hurt by the theft of [the] paper,” said managing editor Jeff Baxter. “Eleven people, including the university’s president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, wrote articles for the paper. Each one of these eleven people was denied their chance to make their case, one way or another, but something they held to be important.”
An outside group, the World Youth Crusade for Freedom, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible. Provenzo is also offering a $100 reward from his own pocket.
“In case after case, administrators let students off with little or no punishment,” Martin said. “Previous incidents at Penn, Duke, DePaul, and now GW are typical.”
In 1992, when a campus policeman at the University of Pennsylvania apprehended students stealing newspapers, the policeman at the University of Pennsylvania apprehended students stealing newspapers, the policeman, and not the students, was punished. In 1993, at Duke, after a faculty committee found a student guilty of stealing campus papers, administrators let the student off without punishment. The student was quoted afterwards as saying that he would keep stealing papers until he was punished. At DePaul University last spring, when protesters occupied the offices of the student paper, the president ordered the newspaper to cease publication until the protesters’ demands were met. The administration not only gave in to all student demands but hired tutors to help the protesters catch up in their classes. “We left with more than we originally bargained for,” said one protester.
“Vandalism is probably more prevalent than the numbers indicate,” said Martin, “Student editors tell us that it happens so often they do not bother to report it.”
The National Alumni Forum called on colleges and universities to adopt and enforce strong policies protecting a free press.
The National Alumni Forum is an organization of alumni and trustees from over 200 colleges and universities across the country. It encourages alumni and trustees to promote academic freedom and excellence. Former National Endowment of the Humanities Chairman Lynne V. Cheney and former Democratic Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm serve as chairman and vice-chairman of the National Alumni Forum respectively. Distinguished Harvard sociologist and higher-education authority David Riesman is Honorary Chairman.