(CN) – A federal judge in Chicago cleared the path for a jury trial over allegations that Chicago State University fired the faculty adviser of its student newspaper in retaliation for fighting the administration’s attempt to censor unflattering articles.
Those allegations were lobbed by Gerian Steven Moore, a former faculty adviser to the Chicago State University Tempo, and George Providence II, the student paper’s former editor.
The pair claimed the university violated the First Amendment by firing Moore, interfering with the content of the paper and ultimately disrupting its publication.
Since he joined the Tempo in 2008, Moore said he refrained from reviewing the paper’s content, focusing instead on “journalistic ethics and procedure.”
Soon after, a series of articles about the school’s alleged failure to provide promised financial aid to some student athletes sparked controversy on campus. Newspapers were stolen from racks before they could be read.
Following the controversy, Moore asked university official Patricia Arnold to be on a staff advisory board for the Tempo. Moore had created the board partially to shield himself from future clashes with the administration. He anticipated more controversial articles, including one about a discrepancy in the funding of a costly university event.
Moore and Providence accused Arnold of trying to use the board to review the paper’s content before publishing.
Providence, a 48-year-old sophomore, refused to submit the Tempo’s editorial content for review. Arnold soon left the Tempo advisory board and recommended that Moore be fired, citing performance issues.
Providence and Arnold continued to clash over the paper’s content following Moore’s departure. Publication was disrupted after the newspaper’s funds suddenly became “unavailable,” according to the lawsuit, and newspaper staff was barred from accessing its campus offices.
Providence left the school, claiming he was being harassed by university officials.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that jurors should determine whether Moore’s firing was retaliatory, and whether university officials “acted deliberately to alter or eliminate disfavored student speech.”
If Providence and Moore prevail, the judge noted, the university will not be liable for monetary damages, because the Illinois Campus Press Act only permits injunctive relief and recovery of attorney’s fees.