MU drops all charges against former Maneater editors

Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 8:05 p.m. CDT; updated 8:11 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 13, 2012

COLUMBIA — Former Maneater editors Abby Spudich and Travis Cornejo said Thursday evening that MU will not pursue disciplinary actions against them following the student newspaper's controversial April Fools' edition.

Both students said they received a call from MU's Office of Student Conduct on Thursday night telling them to disregard the scheduled hearings on possible violations of the code of student conduct.

The Student Press Law Center, a national non-profit student journalist advocacy organization, sent an open letter to Cathy Scroggs, MU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, on Thursday morning.

In the letter Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, asked the university to immediately "pull the plug” on all disciplinary action against the former student editors.

LoMonte defended Spudich and Cornejo on constitutional grounds, citing Supreme Court cases Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri.

"Of all institutions, the University of Missouri should be the last university in America to need reminding that even highly offensive speech is constitutionally protected against disciplinary action," LoMonte wrote.

Spudich, former managing editor, and Cornejo, former editor-in-chief, resigned this week after renaming the April Fools' edition of The Maneater as "The Carpeteater," and printing several articles many students and members of the community considered offensive.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said the organization hoped the letter would cause MU administrators to rethink their decision to pursue disciplinary action.

"If an institution takes the position that anytime someone publishes something that is offensive but constitutionally sound then it's OK to expel them, that creates a chilling effect on journalism," he said.

Goldstein said even the threat of government punishment for something someone said violates the First Amendment, and he hopes this doesn't happen again at MU.

"Mizzou should know better," he said. "There's just something different when you're talking about one of the best journalism schools in the country."

Additionally, Goldstein said that apart from being unconstitutional, the university's disciplinary actions didn't make sense, as the students had already resigned from their editorial positions. They must also deal with the effects their actions could have on future careers in journalism.

"Whatever they were supposed to learn from this, I think they learned it," Goldstein said.

As for the students, they're both relieved the university has decided to discontinue the investigation.

"I'm very relieved," Spudich said. "I can go back to living my life."

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Ellis Smith April 12, 2012 | 8:36 p.m.

Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District is sometimes cited today as one reason we have disciplinary problems in public schools; interestingly, one of the dissenting Justices predicted that would be the outcome.

That said, good to see the "Maneater" business has been settled.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 12, 2012 | 10:02 p.m.

"Of all institutions, the University of Missouri should be the last university in America to need reminding that even highly offensive speech is constitutionally protected against disciplinary action," LoMonte wrote.

So what is highly offensive speech? Can it ever become illegal or at least subject to institutional discipline? Does highly offensive speech include....hate speech? If so, where does it cross the line? What is "hate speech", anyway?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 13, 2012 | 5:32 a.m.

@ Michael Williams:

Interesting. Was strewing cotton balls at a location on the MU campus, which gave the entire University of Missouri System (four campuses) a national black eye, free speech? Was it hate speech? It was subject to institutional discipline, and in the opinion of more than a few of us it should have been.

When, in the autumn of 1948, all students at MSM held a well-publicized and photographed (by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) mock election and voted nearly unanimously for separation from MU, was that free speech? It was definitely subject to institutional discipline. The result of that "election" was loss to the campus of five tenured professors, who resigned rather than accept mandated transfer to Columbia. (The situation carried over to 1949 when an attempt was made to separate the campuses by legislation. The proposal won a simple majority in the House, but the bar was set higher than that.)

As I keep repeating, "different strokes for different folks," aka it all depends upon whose ox is being gored.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 13, 2012 | 8:52 a.m.

Ellis: I never saw the "newspaper" in question, nor do I know the contents except the "carpeteater" moniker. So, I don't know what the hub-bub is all about.

I do know there is controversy about whether the contents of the paper should be considered highly offensive. There are calls for both disciplinary action and no-harm-no-foul inaction.

I asked the questions because there seems to be an inconsistency in application of "discipline" and deciding whether some kind of speech is ok while another is not at the university. The whole thing seems....well....undefined.

To me, it looks like university "speech" is considered offensive and subject to disciplinary action only if the howling group is on the proper PC side of things. If you are not favored, then "harm" is only perceived and not considered real or valid. If you are favored, then discipline is warranted and perhaps legal avenues are viable.

If you wanna play the game, you have ta know the rules.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush April 13, 2012 | 9:42 a.m.

Littering is a
Crime. Vandalism is a
Crime. Poor taste is not.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 13, 2012 | 10:39 a.m.

I am no legal eagle, but I believe ownership gives you final copy approval...

(Report Comment)
Barbara Burlison April 13, 2012 | 12:09 p.m.

Again, I say the University does not OWN The Maneater.

(Report Comment)

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