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Concerning the Suspension of Daily Illini Editors, February 2006

The following statement was issued by the Policy Committee of the UIUC Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has been the nation’s leading organization in defense of academic freedom and in support of freedom of expression in American colleges and universities.

The recent suspension of the editors of the Daily Illini responsible for the February 9 publication of several Danish cartoons has generated significant discussion regarding the rights and responsibilities of the student press. It may be helpful to review the Joint Statement on Rights and Responsibilities of Students adopted nearly forty years ago by the AAUP and four other national educational associations and reaffirmed in 1992. See http://www.aaup.org/statements/Redbook/Studentrights.htm.

The Statement enumerates student rights and responsibilities in many venues of academic life, including the student press. The Statement provides in part that, “The student press should be free of censorship and advance approval of copy, and its editors and managers should be free to develop their own editorial policies and news coverage. Furthermore, “Editors . . . of student publications should be protected from arbitrary suspension and removal because of student, faculty, administration, or public disapproval of editorial policy or content.” The Statement also notes that student editorial freedom “entails corollary responsibilities to be governed by the canons of responsible journalism . . . .”

According to the DI of February 15, 2006, “A student task force has been formed by the Illini Media board of directors and the company’s publisher to investigate the internal decision-making and communication surrounding the publishing of The Daily Illini Opinions Page” on Feb. 9. Editor in Chief Acton Gorton and Opinions Editor Chuck Prochaska were suspended from their editor positions for a period of two weeks pending the outcome of this inquiry. We reserve judgment on the decision pending the outcome of the investigation. The incident does, however, remind us of the importance of having core principles within the academic community regarding the rights and responsibilities of the student press.

The cartoons, which have been reacted to throughout the Muslim world, have been widely reprinted in Europe. In the United States the cartoons have been published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Austin American Statesman, and other print and electronic media. Other U.S. media have declined to publish them. Such decisions should be governed by the cannons of responsible journalism, not by fear of reprisal because the content will be viewed unfavorably.

The student press will face future dilemmas just as perplexing as those related to the Danish cartoons. In this context, we believe the above quoted principles from the AAUP Joint Statement on Rights and Responsibilities of Students remain valuable core principles for the academic community.

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