Speaking Freely


As if we needed more proof that politics makes strange bedfellows, former Atty. Gen. Ed Meese allied himself—for one day at least—with the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization he once branded a "criminals' lobby." At a May press conference, Meese and ACLU director Morton Halperin condemned the growing discrimination against conservative and libertarian journalists on college campuses.

The press conference was called by ex-college journalist (and former REASON intern) James Taranto to announce a settlement the ACLU had won in his First Amendment lawsuit against California State University at Northridge and Cynthia Rawitch, faculty adviser of the student newspaper, The Daily Sundial.

In March 1987, Taranto, then news editor of the Sundial, wrote a column criticizing officials at UCLA for suspending a student editor there who printed a cartoon making fun of affirmative action. Arguing that censorship is contrary to the mission of a university, Taranto reprinted the cartoon. Rawitch suspended Taranto for two weeks for publishing controversial material without her permission. (See "Teaching Intolerance," June 1987.)

When university officials rejected his appeal, Taranto and the ACLU sued, claiming the suspension violated his right to free speech. As a result of the settlement, Taranto received $93 in back pay and had the suspension stricken from his transcript. More significantly, the Sundial has changed its review policy. The faculty advisor retains the right to review articles only in cases of potential libel, invasion of privacy, or obscenity. And even those decisions may be appealed.

Taranto said that the settlement was both "a personal vindication and a vindication of free speech." But he warned that conservative journalists at other universities faced similar discrimination. Meese cited at least 10 recent incidents in which conservative students were disciplined for expressing their opinions. Neither he nor Halperin knew of any cases in which students on the left had been disciplined for expressing their views.