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May 19, 2009

Admissions Counselor Trashes Papers, First Amendment

Ed. Note: Intern Mike DiBiasio wrote this post. Mike just finished his junior year at Ohio Wesleyan University. This will be his second summer here at Seven Days, and we're excited to have him back. The photo shows him interviewing John McCain's daughter, Meghan.

S1084110004_30086505_2715 Forgive me for quoting country music flag-waver Toby Keith, but “freedom don’t come free,” and for some one like me – a college newspaper editor – that means fighting your university admissions office when they step on your First Amendment rights.

I learned this lesson first-hand this past semester after a junior admissions counselor lifted 200 copies of my university’s newspaper, The Transcript, from their racks in the student union during the annual springtime admissions extravaganza. The ever-protective counselor considered our front-page stories on senior drinking traditions and university surveillance to be inappropriate for admitted students and their families visiting Ohio Wesleyan University, and so the papers were removed. 

As Editor-in-Chief of the 142-year-old Transcript, I could imagine that a member of the student body would express their ignorance of First Amendment rights this way, but not a university staffer. 

So The Transcript did what any newspaper would do: we wrote a story and an editorial on the incident and we drew a cartoon. The coverage left students and faculty disappointed that a member of admissions would stoop so low as to censor the newspaper. The admissions office apologized in the story and reportedly held a required office-wide discussion on the First Amendment.  

Thinking we would elicit nothing more than general campus controversy, I was surprised when a reporter at The Columbus Dispatch, interested this First Amendment violation, contacted me for a story.  And as a testament to American journalists’ allegiance to First Amendment rights, the story ended up on the AP wire, in regional publications like The Plain Dealer and on The Chronicle of Higher Education website. It was a fun 15 minutes of fame for The Transcript, another victory for the First Amendment and a great learning experience for this rookie editor.   

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