Editors of Arizona State University's daily newspaper made a serious error in judgment in October when they decided to run a full-page photo of a pierced female breast to illustrate an article on “body art.”
But ASU President Michael Crow appears on the verge of making a serious error in judgment of his own if he presses ahead with a proposal that would amount to administrative censorship.
As the Tribune's Jason Emerson reported on Friday, ASU State Press Editor Cameron Eickmeyer stands by the decision to run the controversial photo in the Oct. 7 edition. But there are plenty of less offensive ways to illustrate a story on body piercing, and that should have been especially apparent in the wake of enormous public outrage over Janet Jackson's breast-baring during the Super Bowl halftime show.
The State Press photo seems more an adolescent “in your face” gesture than a product of serious, informed deliberation. While the State Press is a student newspaper, and therefore presumably a learning environment for budding journalists, university students generally are considered adults in most respects. And that includes a responsibility not only to fellow students but to others in the community.
According to Crow, one of those offended by the photo was Valley developer Ira Fulton, who has donated nearly $60 million to ASU. So it's understandable why Crow, who is working hard to build up private support for ASU so it will be less dependent on dwindling state funding, would be miffed.
He's justified in giving the State Press editors a piece of his mind. But he should have left it at that.
Instead, Crow is pressing for a university-sanctioned editorial policy that would govern content of the State Press. First of all, that is illegal under a mountain of case law that forbids public universities from meddling in editorial affairs of student newspapers. Second, while one lapse in student editors' judgment can damage a paper's standing, administration controls would forever destroy the paper's editorial credibility.
Crow's worthy vision of transforing ASU into a world-class university also would be undermined by administration oversight of the campus newspaper, which, among other important missions, should be acting as a watchdog on the administration. To be blunt, there's nothing world-class about censorship.
So let the debate continue over what runs in the State Press. But, please, let the administrative threats of scrapping the paper's editorial independence stop.