One of the most dispiriting consequence of friction between students and university administrators during been the stepped up efforts of administrators control the campus press. In each of the last three years officials at large state universities have sought to wrest control of student newspaper from student editors and to vest final decision makeup power in school administrators. The latest episode perhaps the most indefensible one threatens the independence of The Florida Alligator the daily newspaper of the University of Florida.
For the past two months Florida's president Stephen C. O'Connell has schemed with the university's Board of Regents to change. The alligator from student newspaper to a University newspaper. He would have an editor publisher appointed by the administration the appointee would in turn have total control over the editorial content of The Alligator and would the empowered to name and dismiss all editors and staff members. The first editor publisher designated by O'Connell as a seven years employee of the university who has lately been acting director of student publication, a technical and management position.
O'Connell's efforts delayed briefly by the Regents last week followed and opinion handed down last April by Florida's attorney general which held that a university president lacked authority to censor or control the editorial content of a campus newspaper. Apparently O'Connell feels that a change in order. The arrogance of his contention--in challenging the state attorney general and trying to circumvent basic tenets of an unfettered press--is amplified by the trivial nature of the issue from which the controversy first arose.
The drive to gain editorial control of The Alligator stems from publication by the paper last fall of a list of abortion referral services. Publication of the list violated a Florida law which has since been declared unconstitutional. At the time, however, O'Connell and the Regents were sufficiently rankled by the publication of the list to challenge the rights of student editors to make the decision to publish. They maintained that O'Connell alone held such decision-making power. The Florida attorney general disagreed. The North Florida chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalistic society, disagreed. Yet O'Connell and the Regents plod along, despite the opinion of the state attorney general, out to get a student newspaper for having the foresight to challenge an outmoded state statute, since declared unconstitutional. Steve Sauls. The Alligator's summer editor, put it best when he said, "O'Connell is really freaking us out. Students have run The Florida Alligator for 65 years and now all of a sudden he decides he can't endure another quarter with it the way it is."
It is appalling that university administrator's who defend free speech and open-mindedness to the hilt can so readily employ a double standard when student editors do something which they do not like. The University of California system ran The Daily California at Berkeley off campus for a single editorial it published in 1970; the University of Texas regents went after, and got tighter control over The Daily Texan in 1971 after the paper uncovered $500,000 in funds misappropriate by the regents: last year, Boston College banned The B.C. Heights from its campus on general principle, but also because the paper let out a fact the administration had tried to keep secret--that it had incurred a $10 million deficit. Now The Alligator must waste its energy defending the basic rights of any newspaper editor, rights which are recognized in most quarters, but apparently not in those of regents and, college administrators.