CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is paying $101,000 in settlement costs after an independent student newspaper accused the University for violating First Amendment rights.
The Liberty, a newspaper that is no longer in circulation, says OSU threw away its distribution bins in 2009.
“This was a classic case of censorship,” said David Hacker, Senior Legal Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the newspaper in the case. “The problem is that Oregon State University didn’t do this to any of the other newspapers on campus.”
Hacker says the newspaper was concerned about its ability to express itself on campus, and that OSU was taking away its freedom of speech.
“The matter really isn’t about freedom of speech,” said Steve Clark, Vice President of University Relations and Marketing at OSU. “Really our policies are about public safety. Not about freedom of speech.”
Clark says Facilities Maintenance staff moved the newspapers without authorization from the University.
“The maintenance staff believed that they were located in places that they should not be, so they acted to remove them,” he said.
The University says it now has policies about working with students to place publications around campus.
“That’s not how you treat things,” Clark said. “We admit that that was done incorrectly. But it again, really had nothing to do about content. Universities are all about freedom of speech. But even in a public space you have to regulate, for safety reasons and right of ways, where things like newspaper distribution boxes should be placed.”
But Hacker argues that The Liberty was working with OSU, and the University never contacted the newspaper when staff threw the papers out.
The OSU Students Alliance Group, a student organization that published the paper, filed a lawsuit against the University in 2009. Hacker says though the lower court dismissed the case, the group appealed it in the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. He says the court ruled in favor of the newspaper, and though OSU tried to take the case the US Supreme Court, the high court denied it, leaving the 9th Circuit Court ruling intact.
“It was a tremendous decision that upheld the students’ rights to speak freely on campus,” Hacker said. “It’s a great victory for student speech not only for The Liberty, but really for all students at Oregon State University and students across the country.”
On Wednesday the case was formally dismissed after the two sides came to a settlement agreement in January. OSU has agreed to pay $101,000: $1,000 to William Rogers, the former executive director of the newspaper; and $100,000 for attorney fees.