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Report gives Duke 'F' for freedom of press on campus, cites requirement that media obtain permission

Everyone fails sometimes. Even Duke, a new report argues. 

In his report “Freedom of the Press on Campus,” John Wilson, a fellow at the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, assigned Duke an “F” for the level of freedom given to journalists on campus.

In the 36-page report, Wilson analyzed the media policies at the 25 highest-ranked universities in the country according to the 2020 U.S. News and World Report, assigning each a letter grade. He also provided nine policy recommendations for colleges to help protect freedom of the press. 

The universities were ranked based on the restrictiveness of their media policy, if one existed. Wilson wrote that media policies generally fell under one of three categories: a total ban on media without the express permission of the administration, heavy restrictions on filming but generally open interviews, or the absence of a media policy at all.

Duke’s media policies state that media sources must obtain permission before entering campus premises or doing any type of reporting on University property. Wilson’s report gives an automatic F to any institution that requires “permission for any media on campus.”

“Duke University, as a private corporation, has no legal obligation to endorse freedom of the press,” Wilson wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “But it also has no legal obligation to protect freedom of speech or academic freedom. Duke should defend free expression in all forms because that liberty is essential for what a university stands for.”

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, disagreed with Wilson’s evaluation of Duke.

He wrote in an email that the report itself “gets an F for lack of original research, and for cutting and pasting from the internet without checking facts.”

“The reality is that, while Duke is a private institution, we are very open to the media and accommodate requests from campus, local, national and international journalists all the time, on a wide range of issues, which a news search on any day will demonstrate,” Schoenfeld wrote.

Other universities that received an “F” were Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Emory, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton, Yale, Stanford and the University of Notre Dame.

“At a time when Donald Trump denounces reporters as ‘fake news’ (and is joined by other authoritarian-minded leaders around the world), universities ought to be standing for the principle of the free press,” Wilson wrote in the report.

“Freedom of the press is a core First Amendment value, but it is particularly important to protect it on college campuses,” he wrote. “Universities must have a unique moral commitment to freedom of expression that is essential for the open exchange of ideas that higher education stands for.” 

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