A university in Kansas for Native Americans has rescinded its restrictions on a student reporter after protest by a free-speech group.
Ronald Graham, the president of Haskell Indian Nations University, has belatedly restored Jared Nally’s permission to cover events for the student newspaper, The Indian Leader, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known as FIRE.
FIRE, along with the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center, blasted HINU in a letter last October for violating the student’s rights and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
“The university owes Jared and all students an apology and a plan on how they’ll protect student rights moving forward,” said Lindsie Rank, author of the letter to the university. “There’s no excuse for restricting Jared’s rights. There’s no excuse for the delay. And now, there’s no excuse for not making institutional changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
The letter reminded university officials they could be held liable for violating freedom of speech and the press.
“Fighting for free-speech rights has made me realize just how precious those rights are,” said Nally. “It’s something I hope I can secure for future students and Indian Leader writers now that I’ve found my voice.”
FIRE said Graham intended to rescind his order last November but “the university did not inform the student of the rescission until Jan. 14 – three months after Graham tried to silenced the student reporter.”
The complaint filed with the federal agency charged the university “substantially misrepresented” itself by alleging to protect student free expression.
Nally had been told he was not allowed to criticize university officials, interview government officials or record interviews.
The conflict developed in July, FIRE said, when the administration unilaterally removed the newspaper’s faculty adviser and installed its own choice, an administrator.
“Student editors feared the move would imperil their right to engage as a free, independent student press, and the newspaper’s officers unanimously voted to remove the administration’s choice as faculty adviser,” FIRE said.
In October, Nally emailed the local Lawrence police department, identifying himself as a student reporter and making a routine request for information about the death of a university employee.
Graham charged Nally “discredited” himself and the university.
There also were issues regarding the student newspaper’s funding.
The Indian Leader is the oldest Native American student newspaper in the country. In September, the paper won 11 awards from NAJA, including first place for general excellence, FIRE said.
FIRE called Graham’s first letter to the student a “meandering, scolding screed” and warned it “has long been settled law that the First Amendment is binding on public colleges like HINU.”
FIRE noted that HINU is operated by the federal government and therefore must uphold students’ First Amendment rights along with the requirements of a 1989 settlement agreement between the university and the student newspaper.
The agreement gave students full editorial control over The Leader, including the right to access its funding, “as well as its right to engage in journalistic pursuits free from censorship.”
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