The student newspaper at California State University, Long Beach, on Friday became the third state university paper in less than a week to violate a state law that prohibits them from endorsing political candidates.
"It would appear that it's a movement," said Jeff Stetson, acting director of public affairs for the state university system.
The latest endorsements came in the Daily Forty-Niner, which carried an unsigned editorial backing Alan Cranston for U.S. Senate, urging voters to return Rose Elizabeth Bird to the California Supreme Court and taking positions on five ballot propositions.
Earlier this week, the student paper at California State University, Fullerton, endorsed Mayor Tom Bradley for governor, and on Wednesday the paper at Humboldt State University in Arcata endorsed Bradley, Cranston and Bird and also took positions on a number of local and state ballot issues.
State law prohibits California state university newspapers--which are supported by public funds--from taking political stands in unsigned editorials. The papers are permitted to run editorials, according to Stetson, only if they are signed by their authors, thus clearly indicating that the views expressed are personal and not those of the newspaper or the institution.
But student editors contend that the policy is too restrictive and a violation of their constitutional rights.
"We are an independent student newspaper and we have the right to publish editorials just like a professional newspaper," said Frank Moraga, editor in chief of the Daily Forty-Niner.
15% Public Funds
While the paper is publicly supported, he said, only 15% of its budget comes from public funds and the rest from advertising revenues.
The decision to run the unsigned editorials, Moraga said, was taken by a unanimous vote of the paper's 10 student editors at a recent meeting. Editors at the paper, he said, believe that their editorials should be protected by a blanket disclaimer the paper routinely runs describing the opinions expressed in its columns as those of the writers or artists.
Staff members at the paper said they have been in touch with editors at several other state-supported university newspapers who also plan to publish unsigned editorials in the next few days. Sources at one of them--California State University, Northridge--confirmed that intention, saying that the university's student newspaper was "leaning toward" an endorsement to be published in Tuesday's editions.
Stephen Horn, president of Cal State Long Beach, was not on the campus Friday and could not be reached for comment. June Cooper, the university's vice president of faculty and staff relations, who said she personally supports the students' stand, said the university is waiting for direction from the chancellor's office on how to respond.
According to Stetson, the presidents of all the campuses have been instructed not to discipline errant student editors until after the settlement--expected in seven to 10 days--of a legal dispute between the university and a former Humboldt State editor who was fired two years ago for publishing an unsigned editorial endorsement.
"I think we're going to have to work cooperatively with the students and the student newspapers so that they can accept our policy," Stetson said. "(Following the settlement), we plan to communicate what the guidelines are in responding to these kinds of issues."