Home ACLU backs JMU student reporters

ACLU backs JMU student reporters


The ACLU of Virginia has asked James Madison University officials not to discipline two campus newspaper reporters for entering a dormitory and interviewing students about a Peeping Tom incident on campus.

Tim Chapman and Katie Hibson, editor-in-chief and a reporter for The Breeze, have been charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and noncompliance with an official request, stemming from an Oct. 18 incident at an on-campus dormitory. Chapman and Hibson claim that they complied with school policies by entering the dorm at the invitation of a resident, but were still ordered to leave by the dorm’s resident adviser. They were later informed of the charges against them.

“As a public university, JMU ought to be bending over backwards to support freedom of the press, not going out of its way to suppress it,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

“From what we can gather,” continued Willis, “the two reporters followed the university’s rules for entering the dorm. We infer from the course of action being pursued by JMU that the school wants to apply different rules to student reporters than to other students.”

In a letter to the JMU Office of Judicial Affairs faxed on Monday, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg cited court decisions holding that the government may not impose special restrictions on the press (see below).

Glenberg wrote: “Aside from the legal issues, we ask that you take into account the important role that a free press has on a college campus, and the unfortunate message the university sends when it disciplines student journalists for pursuing their reporting. The continued prosecution of these charges is likely to have a chilling effect on other student journalists.”

“Freedom of the press, whether on a college campus or in the larger community, is more than just the individual right to collect and disseminate information,” added Willis. “As our founders knew very well, it also serves the core function in our society of educating the public and keeping government honest.”

Tomorrow the two students will be interviewed by a JMU hearing officer, who will determine if the students broke any rules and, if so, recommend a penalty.



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.