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Emotion runs high in debate over ousting student editor

  • Story Highlights
  • About 300 people attended a meeting on the fate of student editor
  • Some have called for him to be fired for a column that said "F**k Bush"
  • Others say he was simply using his First Amendment rights
  • The paper has lost about $50,000 in ad revenue over the column
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By Brett Okamoto
Special to CNN
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CNNU campus correspondent Brett Okamoto is a senior at Colorado State University. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.

FORT COLLINS, Colorado (CNN) -- Hundreds of students turned out at Colorado State University to speak their minds on whether the student newspaper's editor should lose his job over four words.

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College newspaper editor David McSwane talks to the media after Wednesday's meeting.

About 300 people crowded into a classroom Wednesday night, with another 200 or so spilling into the hall, to discuss a column that read simply -- "Taser this: F**k Bush." The debate centers around whether this is a case of First Amendment rights, or a case of abusing those free speech rights with an irresponsible, offensive remark.

The Board of Student Communications, made up of six students and three faculty members, was there to question David McSwane, editor-in-chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian.

It was a chance for students, faculty and community members to talk about the column, which has inflamed tempers since it was published on September 21.

The board will meet privately Thursday to discuss whether to punish McSwane, according to board member and professor Jim Landers.

If members decide to take disciplinary action, another hearing will be scheduled in which McSwane would be able to bring an attorney.

"If people file a complaint, the B.S.C. [Board of Student Communications] must hear the complaint and consider what action to take," Landers said.

Landers said he has received about 300 e-mails opposing the decision to publish the column.

Some people attending the meeting brought signs, wore "F**k Bush" T-shirts and put masking tape over their mouths.

Police stopped people from entering the classroom when it reached its capacity of about 300 -- another 200 or so waited outside.

Inside the meeting, comments from both supporters and opponents met with applause and, in some cases, standing ovations.

Kristopher Hite, a third-year graduate student, responded to a petition by the CSU student organization College Republicans by writing one of his own in support of McSwane.

"This petition asks students to support McSwane and guarantee the rights of the First Amendment," he said as he held it up for the audience to see. "It has over 700 signatures on it."

The advertising manager of The Collegian, Lenay Snyder, addressed the board with a statement expressing her frustration with the financial consequences of McSwane's decision.

"My staff works 100 percent, day in and day out, to finance this paper and now they are literally afraid to call our advertisers," Snyder said. "Dave's job was not only to oversee the news The Collegian printed but to preserve its financial support. He failed."

The Collegian has received calls from 18 advertisers to pull out funds. According to the director of student media, Jeff Browne, The Collegian stands to lose $50,000.

"In turn, one man who started selling "F**k Bush" T-shirts has purchased $300 of advertising," Browne said.

Neither Browne nor any other professional adviser for The Collegian was informed of the editorial board's decision to run the column until the paper had already hit newsstands.

Chelsey Penoyer, chairman of the College Republicans, offered her petition with "over 500 signatures" calling for McSwane to resign.

"This has nothing to do with First Amendment rights, that's something [McSwane] is just hiding behind," Penoyer told the board. "Our entire university will take a hit because of the actions of one student."

McSwane sat calmly through the meeting surrounded by his fellow editors in the second row of the classroom, holding his head with one hand. He refused to comment for this story.

During questioning from the board, however, McSwane said he published the column to spark a debate on campus and that he didn't realize it would create as much controversy as it has.

"I think a thing a lot of people are forgetting is that we're a college paper," McSwane said. "We hear the 'F' word all the time."

Many supporters of McSwane offered praise directly to him from the microphone.

"I was a member of the board that chose David as the editor-in-chief," said CSU professor Pam Jackson. "I believed that he would be a great editor then and I believe he will continue to be a great editor now. Freedom of speech is not free. Clearly in Dave's case it is quite costly."

Others, however, had little praise for McSwane.

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"I respect your ability to use the First Amendment, you should not be fired for that," said Brandon Lowrey, the editor-in-chief of The Collegian last year. "Being irresponsible in that kind of a position, you should be fired for that.

"You are protected by the First Amendment," Lowrey said looking over at McSwane. "And you've disgraced it." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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