USC backtracks on student journalist ban

Grace Gottschling
Investigative Reporter

  • The University of California banned student journalists from covering an event in which students were allowed to ask questions about the selection of a new university president.
  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to the college to advocate in support of the First Amendment.
  • The college later backtracked, reiterating its commitment to the freedom of expression and transparency.
  • The University of Southern California walked back a ban on student journalists from a public forum held at the school on Thursday.

    The school had claimed that contributors would not “feel comfortable” if they knew they were being “recorded or reported on.”

    USC held the forum as part of a three-part public series of sessions designed to get feedback from the campus community regarding the search for a new college president. 

    While journalists were allowed to attend the forum, they were banned from taking notes, quoting speakers, and recording the event. The school instead encouraged student reporters to conduct interviews with attendees outside and after the event, according to The Daily Trojan.

    [RELATED: Nebraska Sen. proposes bill to protect student journalists]

    USC, which has repeatedly stated its commitment to making the search for a new president as public as possible, has now decided to allow journalists full access to the sessions after considerable public outrage, reported The Trojan.

    “Unfortunately, at Thursday’s campus-wide forum, student media reporters were mistakenly told by a University Communications staff person that they were not permitted to report from inside the session,” Rick Caruso, chairman of the USC Board of Trustees, wrote in a campus-wide email on Monday. “That was not accurate, and some student media were reporting from inside the session.”

    Caruso sent the email after free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a letter to USC on Friday to advocate on behalf of the student journalists.

    “Restrictions on student journalists’ ability to report on student criticism of the university in a public forum is inconsistent with the university’s commitments to freedom of expression and to transparency, and cannot be justified by a professed interest in open criticism,” FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program Director Adam Steinbaugh said.

    “We call on USC to return to its public commitment to freedom of expression by publicly assuring that its student journalists will not be prohibited from recording or reporting on public events,” Steinbaugh added.

    [RELATED: Journalists handcuffed, barred from college campuses]

    “While Thursday’s incident was unfortunate, The Daily Trojan is happy with USC’s decision to allow student media to report at future forums,” Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Allen Pham wrote in response. “We look forward to continue holding our University accountable and reporting at events that affect students and the community as a whole.”

    Rather than giving a comment, USC Media Relations referred Campus Reform to The Daily Trojan coverage, stating that “the matter is resolved.”

    The Daily Trojan editorial board did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment in time for publication.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Grace_Gotcha





    Grace Gottschling

    Grace Gottschling

    Investigative Reporter

    Grace Gottschling is the Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She is a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey and has experience traveling across the country to engage and train others in pro-life apologetics. Grace manages research and Freedom of Information Act records requests for Campus Reform.

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