Court: 'Little trouble' finding constitutional violations by OSU

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal appeals court has revived a complaint filed against Oregon State University officials by the creators of a conservative-leaning student newspaper.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday it had "little trouble" finding constitutional violations on the part of university officials.

It reversed a lower-court decision to dismiss the case.

Supporters of The Liberty filed the lawsuit in 2009, alleging that university President Ed Ray and other school officials granted the official campus newspaper numerous distribution bins while arbitrarily limiting The Liberty's reach.

The Liberty's seven outdoor bins disappeared from campus during the winter of 2008-09 while other papers, including off-campus papers, were left untouched.

When editors contacted police, they learned that the university had confiscated the bins and dumped them in a storage yard.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

Oregon State University issued this written statement on the matter:

Oct. 24, 2012
Oregon State University response to Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling

“Oregon State University is dedicated to free speech,” said Steve Clark, Vice-President for University Relations at Oregon State University.

“On Tuesday, October 22, 2012, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a federal district court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought against OSU for the University's removal in 2009 of several newspaper distribution racks placed by a student organization that were not located in designated areas on campus.

“The University works hard to balance its commitment for individual freedom of expression alongside its responsibility to manage its property.  In this particular matter, the University believes its previous policy related to newspaper or magazine distribution racks and boxes to be content-neutral and constitutional.  The policy did not distinguish -- nor was enforced -- on the basis of the publication’s content or viewpoint. Instead, the policy specified the general location of news distribution racks or boxes that were sought to be located on the OSU campus, while giving additional distribution locations to the University’s long-established and student government-funded newspaper, The Barometer.

“University officials were surprised by the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  OSU disagrees with many of the plaintiffs’ factual characterizations, which were accepted as true by the court at this stage of the case.  We are pleased that the appeals court held that senior University leaders did not engage in any misconduct.  But, the judges unexpectedly went on to find that the senior OSU leaders’ knowledge of the previous newspaper distribution box policy was sufficient for them to remain named as defendants in the lawsuit.
“Current OSU policy enables any person to obtain permission to place a newspaper distribution rack or box on campus by submitting a request form and complying with certain physical requirements, such as newspaper distribution racks or boxes not being over a certain size; being kept in an upright position; and not being chained to OSU property without prior approval.  Although the OSU Student Alliance has not been a registered student organization for the past two years, OSU worked with Alliance members in 2010 to ensure that Liberty newspaper distribution boxes were placed in various locations on campus in a way that met the Alliance’s needs and complied with the University’s new policy.  

“OSU is reviewing its options in terms of this particular lawsuit and the appeals court ruling.  It will not provide further comment on this matter while the matter is pending in litigation.

“Meanwhile, the University remains committed to strive for a free marketplace of ideas in a way that maintains the safety, aesthetics and cleanliness of the OSU campus.”