Free Speech Series

Does Syracuse University’s funding of campus publications dictate content?

Kiran Ramsey | Digital Design Editor

Many student publications on campus are funded by the university.

Editor’s Note: Over the past month, The Daily Orange has collaborated with the Department of Newspaper and Online Journalism at Syracuse University on a series of stories relating to free speech. 

Every year, a small portion of students’ tuitions go toward funding campus publications and organizations as part of the mandatory Student Activity Fee at Syracuse University.

The University highlights this in its Tuitions and Fees Booklet as a mandatory fee for Main Campus and English Language Institute students. These fees are collected by governing bodies, such as the Student Association, Graduate Student Organization and Law Student Bar Association and the money is allocated to campus organizations.

The University provides funding to student-run media outlets and publications by having its students pay the Student Activity Fee of $203 in the fall semester for undergraduate students enrolled for 12 or more credits. The fee gives these publications some of the basic financial resources that keeps them afloat.

The university also creates guidelines and free speech boundaries with its general speech and anti-harassment policies for publications.

Josh Carney, a junior broadcast and digital journalism major and political talk show anchor at CitrusTV, said although the Student Activity Fee and the university policies are something that anchors and writers keep in mind at Citrus, they don’t necessarily dictate the content released.

Carney attributes the lack of intrigue in university free speech policies at Citrus to the type of stories it releases as a media outlet.

“We’re critical of the school. We’re critical of Kent (Syverud). We keep an eye on what’s going on and we keep an eye on the community. We don’t take positions but we analyze all positions with equal merit.” Carney said, “This really allows us to be flexible with the content that we release under the university standards because we give the community a chance to recognize all the sides of an opinion, which ultimately bodes well with the university.”

On the other side of the news providing spectrum sits Jerk Magazine, an outspoken student run publication that takes on controversial political and social issues.

Caroline Cakebread, an SU senior working as a web editor at Jerk Magazine, believes that despite the outspoken and sometimes controversial content that the publication releases, the writers on staff are aware of the university’s free speech policies.

“The university has no authority to censor content despite the funding and I don’t think they would ever try to because they’d know we’d probably just go write about!” Cakebread said, “I think if we were publishing anything that looked like hate speech they would censor the content but then it would justified. “

Randal Marlin, a philosophy professor focusing on the study of ethical dimensions of persuasion and propaganda at Carleton University in Ottawa, said that publications will provide content that some find offensive but that others do not.

“A writer’s free speech abilities can of course be closed off by a boundary created by other’s opinions,” Marlin said, “I’ve seen it happen when a mob shouts down a speaker, but also when a Chair rules someone out of order. So as a matter of empirical fact, this can happen.”

Marlin does believe that satire can promote deep-seated hatreds of certain people, of the kind that encourages violence as something to be deplored, but at the same time it may serve a public good if it is used to denounce a particular evil in society that needs to be rectified, he said.

“Even if some cartoons, for example, go beyond acceptable limits, the idea of censoring them has to be weighed against the chilling effect on free speech,” Marlin said, “There are two things to take into account here. The seriousness of the harm that the satire seeks to oppose and the nature and extent of an audience’s prejudices.”

Cakebread said that harassment can be determined by a person’s intentions only after they have repeatedly bothered another person, and that can be a major factor in keeping the university’s harassment policy as one of truth and not simply opinion.

The policy covers any media outlet at SU ranging from print, television, and radio and aims to create a set of guidelines that publications can follow in an effort to avoid political incorrectness or any insensitive content being published. Although it hasn’t been clear as to what is “protected” in the anti-harassment policy, it is evident that free speech is taken into consideration because of the line that the policy attempts to draw between satire and offensive, hateful content.

The University updates its policies, specifically on anti-harassment and free speech, on a yearly basis with the last update taking place in December. The policies are enacted in an effort to create a fair, safe environment where students can speak their minds freely but also maintain a conscious thought of not crossing the hypothetical line into offending or harassing a person or group of people.

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