IMR: Extras: Scraps: New news on campus
Honolulu Weekly, October 8-14, 1997
Is there a free-speech battle brewing at University aVenue?
New news on campus
By Susan Miller
An independent student newspaper on the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus sounded like a liberating idea to three student journalists who'd previously worked on the university-affiliated student press, Ka Leo O Hawai`i.
After a two-year stint at the student daily, Michael Lee, Ryan Ozawa and William Matsuda had dreamed enough in Ka Leo's classroom-style newsroom and wanted the freedom to write more in-depth stories without the pressure of "always being on deadline," or the restraining effect of operating under the auspices of the the administration.
"Because of the 4 o`clock deadline, most of our stories were pretty shallow," admitted Ozawa, who served as Ka Leo's editor in chief for two years. "And, yeah, there were times when I had second thoughts about covering certain stories, because Ka Leo's affiliated with UH. That's always in the back of your mind."
As the campus' newest alternative independent paper, with a circulation of 5,000, aVenue receives no student activity funds. UH-Manoa students pay $13 per semester to fund the campus' Board of Publications, which oversees, among other publications, Ka Leo, the official campus student paper, which has a daily circulation of about 18,000.
Inspired by the multitude of diverse student voices expressed in 10 independent student newspapers on the UC Berkeley campus, Lee, Ozawa and Matsuda spent last summer facing the "trials and tribulations" of becoming trailblazers in establishing their own alternative monthly, University aVenue, free of the UH bureaucracy.
"It's great being your own boss," Lee said, who serves as photojournalist for aVenue, which distributed its first eight-page edition Aug. 25. "We divide the work and go about getting things done." That included personally dipping into their wallets for $350 to augment cash collected for advertising to cover costs of the inaugural issue.
"People love the idea of alternative news, but it was difficult to sell advertising when you have no visible product in hands," Ozawa said.
The most popular sentiment has been "it's about time" an alternative student newspaper graced the UH-Manoa campus. But just how free is free on the university campus?
Facing instant unpopularity with UH administrators, aVenue staffers have had to quickly brush up on legal precedents they believe protect their First Amendment rights to distribute the newspaper on campus without prior administrative approval.
aVenue first ran into trouble on the opening day of classes in August, when Ozawa, Lee and Matsuda handed out copies of the newspaper in the lower campus parking structure. After passing out some 3,000 issues, campus security stopped distribution and advised the threesome to use the Campus Center courtyard as a distribution point.
There they encountered a campus center administrator who discouraged distribution without a "use permit."
Now Lee, Ozawa and Matsuda must address University of Hawai'i restrictions, which require aVenue to apply for a campus center use permit before they distribute the October/November issue.
University policy on UH "free speech areas" (yes, they are delineated) requires administrative review and advance scheduling for all student- and department-related activities planned for the campus' designated speech areas, Varney Circle and the Campus Center's indoor forum and outdoor courtyard.
Facilities management officials say they review requests for the use of Varney Circle to ensure that activities, including the distribution of written materials, don't interfere with the normal flow of traffic or the safety of pedestrians around Varney Circle. All banners and fliers, for example, must be submitted to facilities management for prior approval.
Jan Javinar, the interim director of UH Co-Curricular Activities in the Campus Center, commented that as a public institution, the university has the right to determine "time, place and manner" guidelines in the distribution of literature campus-wide. Those regulations don't constitute censorship, Javinar said. He added that as a "special-use facility," Campus Center administrators can also establish further rules and regulations for the building, as long as they don't conflict with the university's overall facilities-use policy.
aVenue staffers, however, argue that the regulations are aimed at scheduling concerts, lectures and other gatherings requiring sound equipment and technical support coordination. And they say Javinar's interpretation of the campus center regulations stifles the free exchange of ideas by burdening the distribution of the student newspaper.
Javinar says the across-the-board policy bans all unregistered use of the Campus Center facilities, including distribution of written materials.
"For them to use the Campus Center courtyard, like any other group, they have to sign out for it," he said. "I'm not trying to keep them from distributing. I simply informed them what the requirements were, and where the free speech areas were."
The avenue staff takes issue with these requirements.
"Javinar is abusing his power," Lee said.
Attorneys at the Student Press Law Center, a free-speech advisory body in Washington, D.C., claim aVenue is on solid constitutional ground in challenging Javinar's interpretation of time, place and manner restrictions. The SPLC contends constitutional law and legal precedent establish that school administrators can't create unreasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of distribution-especially when restrictions are intended to prohibit viewpoints they dislike.
For restrictions to be reasonable, courts have ruled, their only purpose must be to promote the orderly administration of school activities by preventing disruption, according to the SPLC.
"If we tried to force avenue on uninterested students during an English class lecture, that would constitute disruption," Lee said. "But handing out the paper at lunch time in a common student area like Campus Center doesn't constitute a disorderly or disruptive activity.
"Students have the right to freedom of expression, as long as they aren't causing a disruption," Lee said. "There is no way, short of holding people at gunpoint, that we'd be causing a disruption on campus by distributing to people who are just walking around."
Javinar responded that it's unfortunate aVenue staffers, whom he worked with at Ka Leo, didn't come to him directly to discuss the details of their complaint.
"I have to remember they are student journalists first, still learning the trade and the craft," Javinar said. "They are open to making errors that a more experienced professional would not."
With aVenue's second edition close to completion, Lee, Ozawa and Matsuda are readying to challenge Javinar's strict interpretation of the use-permit regulations.
"We're going to distribute, and let them try and stop us," Lee said, adding that if necessary, aVenue plans to legally challenge the regulation.
"It's pretty obvious that wanting us to make reservations to distribute the newspaper is basically asking us to play this game," he said. "I don't feel like doing the dance."
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