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University administrator's confiscation of yearbooks upheld

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         SIXTH CIRCUIT         Prior Restraints         Sep 20, 1999    

University administrator’s confiscation of yearbooks upheld

  • A split federal panel in Cincinnati concluded that a public institution’s yearbook is a nonpublic forum that is subject to reasonable regulation by university officials.

A split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) held in early September that Kentucky State University’s Vice President of Student Affairs did not violate the First Amendment rights of a yearbook editor and students when she confiscated all copies of the yearbook.

The panel concluded that a public institution’s yearbook is a nonpublic forum that is subject to reasonable regulation by university officials.

In reaching its decision, the court relied heavily on its interpretation of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In the1988 Hazelwood decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that high school officials could censor a public high school newspaper’s content, so long as the censorship was “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns” because the school newspaper was a private forum.

The Court of Appeals similarly found that the state created a private forum in a college setting with the Kentucky State yearbook. No other court has applied Hazelwood to a college publication.

Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. argued in a dissenting opinion that a university publication should be accorded greater freedom than a high school publication and noted that the policy statement of a Kentucky State handbook authorized the Publications Advisor to change only form, not content.

The then-Vice President for Student Affairs, Betty Gibson, confiscated the yearbook in 1994 because she objected to the replacement of Kentucky State’s official colors with purple and to the yearbook theme of “Destination Unknown” — which included portrayals of current national personalities and events, instead of university events.

(Kincaid v. Gibson; Student Yearbook Counsel: D. Bruce Orwin, Somerset, Ky.)


© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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