Student Press Freedom Day is celebrated on Feb. 26 to honor the work that student-run publications do to keep their community safe and informed.
The following day, Feb. 27, will mark the four-year anniversary of WKU’s lawsuit against the College Heights Herald that continues to prevent the release of sexual misconduct records.
This lawsuit now spans generations of Herald staffers. No one who works with us now was here when the lawsuit began in February 2017.
It is something that has become so commonplace, so pervasive, so part of the daily grind, that it’s become just another fact, and we forget to notice it.
The universal truths: The Herald comes out on Tuesday. The university is suing us.
But this fact is shocking. It’s bizarre. The university has been in an active lawsuit against its independent student newspaper, the College Heights Herald, for four years.
In November 2016, the Herald requested Title IX-related records, including investigations of university employees for sexual misconduct involving students. WKU refused.
WKU claimed the release of the records would “significantly stifle complaints from reporting sex and/or gender-based discrimination.” The records the Herald sought would redact any student-identifying information.
Every public university in the state complied with this request other than WKU and Kentucky State University. The Herald appealed WKU’s decision to the attorney general’s office, which enforces the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Andy Beshear, then attorney general, ordered that WKU had violated Kentucky’s Open Records Act and must release the records.
Instead, WKU sued the Herald to overturn Beshear’s order.
What does this say about protecting students?
Student Press Freedom Day re- minds us that this is not something to be forgotten.
The press is something so vital to a democratic society that the framers of the U.S. Constitution named it specifically in the First Amendment. So important, that the freedom of the press is enumerated next to some of the most core American values: the freedoms of religion and speech.
Throughout our history, journalism has been the vehicle of holding officials accountable, enriching communities and broadening perspectives on federal and local levels.
And yes, even student communities.
The Herald’s request was compliant with the Open Records Act, as stated by the state’s former attorney general.
With student names and all identifying information redacted, all that would be left are faculty members who are investigated for sexual misconduct against students.
If students aren’t identified, who is really being protected?
Student press freedom isn’t only about protecting media organizations and journalists. It’s about protecting an institution’s students. Student journalism holds officials accountable and gives the student body voice. It informs, and it educates — what higher education is all about.