Issue 75, Fall 1999

A decision from a federal appeals court in September sharply limits the First Amendment rights of university journalists in the Sixth Circuit. The decision has stunned advocates for student media and free expression.

In Kincaid v. Gibson, the appeals court ruled in favor of University of Kentucky officials who confiscated 2,000 student yearbooks because they disliked its theme and colors. The court also upheld the removal of the student newspaper’s faculty adviser for refusing to censor material criticizing the university.

The decision represents the first time an appellate court has applied the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier to student media in a college setting. Hazelwood, which permits public school officials to censor school-sponsored expression for “legitimate pedagogical reasons,” has gutted many high school student journalism programs, according to the Student Press Law Center. Kentucky University students have asked for a rehearing before the full panel of Sixth Circuit Court judges. An amicus brief has been filed by a broad coalition of journalism and civil liberties groups who consider the decision a threat to all student expression in colleges within the Sixth District, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.