Censorship at Santa Clara

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On Feb. 2, Santa Clara University’s student newspaper, The Santa Clara, ran a print and online publication about John and Susan Sobrato’s donation to build a new STEM center at Santa Clara. The Sobratos are frequent donors to Jesuit universities, included a $15 million to our own university. The Santa Clara’s story, titled “A Closer Look at the $100 Million Sobrato Gift,” detailed how the donation will tie Georgetown for the largest donation made to a Catholic university. The story also included controversy. In the story, The Santa Clara included a remark from the donor John Sobrato that criticized Santa Clara’s engineering dean. John Sobrato was reported saying, “Frankly, we have to have a new dean that’s more connected in the high-tech community. And I don’t want to throw stones at Godfrey, but … we need somebody that’s a modern, high-tech entrepreneur.”

Within a week after the story printed, Santa Clara University officials asked the student paper to remove the lines criticizing Godfrey Mungal, dean of Santa Clara’s engineering school. A lawyer representing the university said “the potential for harm outweighed the benefit,” in response to claims of censorship.

 

As student journalists, the Foghorn is vehemently opposed to any kind of censorship of student publications, especially censorship from powers we are responsible for holding accountable. But further, the Foghorn is opposed to the actions student journalists at the Santa Clara took next.

 

After being asked to remove John Sobrato’s quote on Dean Godfrey, the Santa Clara simply complied. As reported by SF Gate, the Santa Clara’s editor-in-chief “said that even though the removal was framed as a request, they felt they had no choice but to comply because the university is the paper’s publisher and supports it with $70,000 a year.”

 

Every student journalist in California should know that this is not the case. Student journalists in California do have the choice to comply with administrative censorship or not. And we are incredibly lucky to be able to say so. This is because of a piece of legislation called the Leonard Law. Proposed by state Senator Bill Leonard, this law protects the first amendment rights of student publications in California. As a result, all student journalists in California, even those at private institutions, are guaranteed the right to be free from censorship. Therefore, Santa Clara University should have respected this freedom and never asked their student paper to retract truthful quotes in the first place.

 

After agreeing to remove the quotes about Dean Godfrey, the Santa Clara published an updated online article with an editor’s note that read, “We found the request to be in violation of our commitment to journalistic ethics, and did so only to comply with our publisher’s request.”

 

This begs the question, if the Santa Clara found the the request to go against their journalistic ethics, why did they go along with it? Especially with the Leonard Law protecting them? California is privileged to be the only state in the U.S. to have a law protecting student journalists at private universities from censorship. Like USF, Santa Clara is a private, Californian university. It is alarming that the Santa Clara did not acknowledge their Leonard Law privilege, a law written specifically for instances like this.

 

The Foghorn has published articles against USF’s wishes in the past. University officials have tried to get us to verify or remove these stories, but we have been taught our rights as student journalists. The Santa Clara should meet the same standards.

 

Foghorn and Santa Clara staffers are lucky to go to private school in the only state that entitles all student journalists with full first amendment rights. We should thank former state Sen. Bill Leonard by learning about the privileges he has extended to us.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’d like to comment on your second to last paragraph, which I quote in part: “The Foghorn has published articles against USF’s wishes in the past. University officials have tried to get us to verify or remove these stories, but we have been taught our rights as student journalists.”

    I question your use of the word “verify” above. Isn’t it a responsibility of all journalists (not just student journalists) to do the due diligence to verify their facts and their stories? I fully support freedom of speech. Indeed as a 30-year military veteran I made a commitment to support and defend that freedom, but there’s an expectation that a story is factual, and not fiction. Accountability is a two-way street.

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