Date of Award

8-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Barbara Moore

Committee Members

Grady Bogue, Dorothy Bowles, Ron Taylor

Abstract

Courts have ruled for decades that student journalists at public colleges and universities are entitled to constitutional protection. As a result, higher education officials are faced regularly with dilemmas that pit the free campus press against what the administration sees as the greater good of the institution at large. With a summary of relevant case law as its backdrop, this qualitative study describes how public college administrators balance the First Amendment rights of the campus press and the broader interests of their institutions.

A number of authors have suggested that open dialogue and mutual understanding are crucial for a healthy relationship between college administrators and campus press stakeholders. This study is important because it will help generate that discussion. Furthermore, this study fills a gap in the literature. No qualitative research investigating this issue of balance has been published since a federal court’s ruling in Hosty v. Carter (2005), the most recent — and perhaps most controversial — decision concerning First Amendment protection of the collegiate press.

Using a sampling strategy that maximizes variation among the participants, the researcher conducted in-depth interviews with nine public college administrators in the Southeast. Theoretical saturation was reached at about the seventh interview.

Four thematic strategies emerged from the data that describe how the participants perform the balancing act at focus in this study. Consistent with the grounded theory approach, these findings constitute a theoretical framework that helps explain the phenomenon being investigated: (1) supporting a free campus press, (2) keeping the lines of communication open, (3) knowing how to manage controversy, and (4) resolving that they may have to intervene.

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