CHICAGO (CN) – The faculty adviser to a college newspaper was wrongly terminated when the students published articles critical of the administration, a federal judge ruled.
Chicago State University, a predominately black school on the South Side of Chicago, hired Gerian Moore as a lecturer in the Department of African American Studies in 2007. He became faculty adviser to the then-inactive student newspaper Tempo in 2008.
That spring, Tempo published a number of articles that were critical of the university and its administration. One article criticized the CSU’s athletic department for delays in distributing scholarship funds. Another covered the arrest of CSU’s head baseball coach for allegedly assaulting a student. In its final issue of the semester, the paper quoted the university’s financial aid director as having made derogatory, racially charged statements about the school’s student body.
The articles had taken its toll on Moore’s relationship with the university Vice President Beverly John. In a memo to Patricia Arnold, executive director of university relations, John accused Moore of “building a tenor of dishonesty and deceit.”
“I firmly believe that Moore is behind the negative tenor of the student newspaper,” John wrote.
In fall 2008, a Tempo article questioned how the student-run modeling organization, which started the semester with $1,500, acquired funds to host a $22,000 fashion show featuring R&B performers.
In his role as faculty adviser, Moore claimed he did not determine the content or editorial policy of the student-run paper, which he left to the paper’s editor-in-chief, George Providence III, a 48-year-old college sophomore.
Nevertheless, Moore was fired less than a week after the fashion show article ran.
After Moore’s termination, Arnold instituted a policy requiring Providence to seek approval before interviewing university faculty or students, “as a courtesy.” In an attempt to comply with the protocol for a follow-up story on the fashion show, Providence submitted a series of questions to Arnold. Arnold told him she would “submit the questions and find out what’s more convenient for them.” Relations between Arnold and Providence deteriorated after this exchange.
When the school appointed Quraysh Lansana as Tempo’s new faculty adviser in January 2009, Lansana asked Providence to provide prepublication copies of articles for his review. When Providence objected, Lansana told Providence that Tempo could not go to publication.
Tempo published one issue without Lansana’s permission and then ceased operating.
In a lawsuit against CSU President Wayne Watson and spokeswoman Erma Williams, Moore and Providence alleged that CSU violated their First Amendment rights.
Agreeing that Moore’s termination was a violation of the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ordered CSU to reinstate him to his previous or similar position.
“The evidence suggests that Arnold blamed Moore for the objectionable content” in Tempo, Pallmeyer said. “Additionally, the timing of Moore’s termination strongly support the conclusion that Arnold recommended Moor’s termination because of her objections to Tempo’s content.”
“The court concludes plaintiffs have proven that Arnold’s recommendation to terminate Moore was based, at least in part, on her objection to the protected speech in Tempo,” she added.
While Pallmeyer recognized that “violations of Providence’s First Amendment rights did not end with Moore’s termination,” she did not grant him any of the relief he sought. The plaintiffs failed to name Arnold and Lansana as defendants, and “have not shown that Tempo’s dormancy is a result of any action by university officials,” the ruling states.