What is censorship?

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By Richard RoBards

A student newspaper adviser, with whom we had a working relationship, has resigned over a disagreement that he perceived as the school administration's censorship of student work.

The administration disagrees.

A story in The Press, an industry newspaper published by the Kentucky Press Association, said Tom Winski chose not to renew his contract with Lindsey Wilson College after new contract language required him to review articles for the LWC student publication - The View - prior to publication.

Winski, by our accounts, was certainly trying to give his students a taste of the real world. He seemed engaged in making sure journalism students at the Columbia campus had the best opportunities to succeed. We've worked with a few of his students on occasion and found him to have his students' best interests at heart.

According to an article, republished in The Press, written by Sharon Burton of the Adair County Community Voice, a clause was added to Winski's contract that would require him to provide feedback to students on their writing and to review the form and structure of the writing in the newspaper before publication.

What's the problem with that, you ask?

In the real world, writers have their work reviewed every single day on every single story. Editors here provide guidance, offer assistance, turn stories back for rewrite, ask for attribution, request more balance, review fairness and most of all try to get the best possible story in the timeframe allowed. We're at the mercy of sources and the availability of basic information. It's not easy sometimes, something that students learn as they progress from 100 level courses to 400 level.

Lindsey is a private college and private colleges are, well, private. Even so, Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va. says that "prior review" is prohibited by law at public universities and is not a common practice for private colleges.

But Dr. Bill Luckey, Lindsey's president, said he wasn't interested in censorship per se, but simply the elimination of bad grammar and misspellings.

We may never know, but this seems like such a simple thing. Wouldn't a college newspaper adviser want to read his students' work prior to publication, even offer them unsolicited advice? Wouldn't that be part of the educational process? Would not a conscientious student want all the advice he or she could get prior to a story coming off the press?

"If I were to do what the contract stipulates, that would be as if I was editing the paper," Winski told Burton. "But it's not my paper, it's the students' paper and the students should be editing it."

I won't argue that point. Part of education is learning from doing. But I haven't seen a student yet, or an employee, who couldn't use hands-on oversight. I've found that oversight after the paper is published is generally useless.

One can argue First Amendment infringement, but in the real world, these students may get a job and their work will and should be scrutinized every day. They might as well get used to it.

College is for learning and you can advise without censoring.

It's all very unfortunate. Winski is a good man. I can't help but wonder what the real problem must be. Maybe my cynicism needs oversight?