“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
On public college campuses across the country, student newspapers and publications enjoy protection under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. They may argue and articulate any point regardless of the host university’s objections, as long as they avoid such exceptions as creating the possibility of danger on campus, inciting violence or producing outright obscenity.
Private campuses like that of Saint Peter’s University, on the other hand, do not have similarly free newspapers, as the same protections do not apply to students willingly enrolled in a private institution. The Pauw Wow can be suspended indefinitely if the University determines its content to be unfit for print, which has happened in the past, as recently as the Spring 2016 term.
Since this publication lacks many of the legal protections granted to newspapers in public colleges and universities, we rely on individual protection from students and faculty members who understand the value of a school newspaper that is granted similar rights by the University, even if, legally speaking, it holds no obligation to do so.
Why is the newspaper so important? To students, the school newspaper serves as an invaluable resource for both information and accountability. To date, the Pauw Wow’s reporting of the closure of Whelan and Gannon Halls remains as the most-viewed story in the paper’s recent history. It provided answers to many of the questions students had about the issues involved and the timeframe in which a solution could be anticipated; for most at the time, little was known about either.
The newspaper also keeps a close eye on the workings of the staff and administration of Saint Peter’s and reports on significant changes that affect students. As tuition-paying attendees of the school, students should have reasonable access to information about where that money is going and what continual improvements are being made. If those answers are not readily available, we help the school in providing a platform to provide them in their own words.
That said, we also help the administration by maintaining a close connection with the student body, helping them to keep a finger on the pulse of campus life and better act in the interest of the student body. If decisions made by the governing bodies of the school regularly ignore the expressed will of its students, it is hard to argue in turn that those decisions will further an agenda that will improve student retention, incentivise campus engagement and facilitate a growing student body.
For these reasons and so many more, it is up to each individual, regardless of whether they read every story of every edition, or whether they are a student or faculty, to understand and appreciate the critical importance of a rarely-censored and ambitious student-led newspaper. Without such a paper, the blind would surely be leading the blind, and all would be worse-off for it.