A civil liberties group filed suit Monday challenging Cal State Northridge's policy that student journalists must submit controversial material for review before it is published in the student newspaper.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, seeks an injunction barring such reviews by a faculty member.
The suit was filed on behalf of James Taranto, who was suspended from the Daily Sundial for two weeks without pay after a commentary he wrote was published in the paper March 5, 1987. The article defended a controversial cartoon on affirmative action that originally appeared in UCLA's Daily Bruin.
Taranto prepared the editorial page, where his commentary appeared beside the cartoon, which pictured a college student speaking with a rooster. When the student asked how the rooster was admitted to UCLA, the bird replied: "Affirmative action."
The cartoon prompted vociferous protests from minority students at UCLA and led to the temporary suspension last year of the Daily Bruin's editor. Taranto, a 22-year-old journalism major from Topanga Canyon, wrote that the UCLA daily had a right to publish the drawing and disputed allegations that the cartoon was racist.
The lawsuit seeks to recover $93, the stipend Taranto would have received during his two-week suspension, and requests unspecified punitive damages from the university.
Michael Emery, chairman of the CSUN journalism department, said Taranto was not suspended because of the article's content. Emery said students are required to show the faculty publisher any questionable articles before publication, but Taranto failed to have the piece reviewed by Cynthia Z. Rawitch, a journalism professor and Sundial publisher.
"The only way to operate the Sundial in a professional manner is to have a faculty publisher working closely with student editors, maintaining high standards and being aware of potential legal problems," he said.
"There's no censorship on our paper," he added.
The Daily Sundial, with a circulation of 10,000 and appearing Tuesday through Friday, is a laboratory for journalism majors. Students are graded for their performance on the paper, and the close relationship between the paper and the journalism school makes the Daily Sundial different from independent campus newspapers, Emery said.
But Taranto said press freedom is the issue, not grades. He also charged that he was suspended because Rawitch did not agree with his column. "The problem really is what I wrote," he said.