Special to the Tropolitan
Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. said that freedom of expression is an essential at Troy University, which lost a federal court case after it was accused of censoring and expelling a student newspaper editor in 1967.
“Freedom of expression is essential in both the personal and professional growth of all of our students here at Troy,” Hawkins said in an interview. He said it is critical to educate students to communicate civilly with everyone around them, even if the way the other person thinks is foreign to them.
Troy University – then named Troy State College – was a defendant in a landmark case in 1967 called Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education. The plaintiff was a Troy student who was refused re-entry to Troy State for having the word “CENSORED” printed across an issue of the Tropolitan.
Gary Clinton Dickey, a Troy alum and former news editor of the Tropolitan, wrote an article titled “A Lament for Dr. Rose” in support of the then-president of the University of Alabama, Frank Rose. Several state legislators had called for Rose’s resignation.
Rose had defended the rights of the students at the University of Alabama to publish material that promoted racial equality. A publication called “Emphasis 67 — A World in Revolution” that was put out by the university had been labeled as communist propaganda by some legislators, which had resulted in the call for Rose’s resignation.
Dickey was instructed not to publish the article because it violated “Adams’ Rule.” Ralph Adams, the university’s president at the time, said that a newspaper could not criticize its owners, according to Dickey. Because Troy was a public university then, the Tropolitan could not criticize the state legislature or the governor. Adams was a supporter and former roommate of then-Gov. George Wallace and did not want anything negative said about him, Dickey said.
Dickey was offered an alternate article, “Raising Dogs in North Carolina,” after his editorial was rejected. Dickey refused and did not publish his article. Instead he had “CENSORED” in large type printed across the spot in the Tropolitan where his editorial would have been in the last spring edition of the Tropolitan in 1967.
On Aug. 28, 1967, Dickey was notified by Troy State College through the dean of men that the Student Affairs Committee had decided that he was not to be admitted to the college. Dickey filed a lawsuit against the college on the grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated.
Troy State College eventually lost the case and was ordered to immediately reinstate Dickey and to pay his legal costs. Presiding U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson ruled that the college’s actions were unconstitutional and void and must be rescinded.
“It is basic in our law in this country that the privilege to communicate concerning a matter of public interest is embraced in the First Amendment right relating to freedom of speech and is constitutionally protected against infringement by state officials,” Judge Johnson wrote.
This case set a precedent for college journalists across Alabama and across the nation. The ruling was the first of its kind, according to Susan Sarapin, assistant professor of journalism and mass media law at Troy University. It allowed college journalists the ability to criticize the government, even if the medium used was owned by a public body.
Morris Seligman Dees Jr., now 77, who became co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, served as Dickey’s legal counsel during the case. Dees described the case as if they were suing Wallace himself.
“It was actually pretty fun to go up against Adams’ crew,” Dees said. “Gov. Wallace had given him pretty much free reign of the place (Troy State College) to run it however he wanted to. Because of Wallace’s power and because the article was about Wallace himself, he got them (the Adams administration) the best law firm in town.”
Dees said that there is no doubt that this case was a very important precedent for college journalists. He said that he usually tries to apply a theme to his cases and that the theme for this case was “Adams’ Rule.”
Steve Stewart, current adviser for the Tropolitan, assistant professor of journalism at Troy University and journalist, sees his job differently from the role that the Tropolitan adviser played in Dickey’s case.
“My main concern as Tropolitan adviser is to help them be professional,” Stewart said. “My goal is to help the students put out high-quality work and to help them focus on material that will serve their readers. Nobody has ever told me that it is my job to censor the Tropolitan, and I certainly do not think that is my job.”
Stewart said Troy University today is a place of free speech and he does not see anything that prohibits students from expressing themselves. He said he cannot foresee another situation happening like the Dickey case. He said that the large international presence on campus is a sign that the university values what every individual brings to the table and can learn from others.
Valario Johnson, a junior biomedical sciences major, current news editor for the Tropolitan, holds the same position that Dickey held almost 50 years ago.
“The paper is run very liberally today,” Johnson said. “Professor Stewart has a small say, but mostly it comes down to what we want to write.” He said that things are a lot different today than what he has heard they were during Dickey’s tenure.
“I think he was bold, especially going up against Ralph Adams,” Johnson said. He said he feels that Dickey’s actions have benefited him by not having to worry about someone having complete control over what he writes.
He said that he feels that as long as the staff writes responsibly and in a civil manner, he doesn’t see any situation like the Dickey case happening in the near future.
Hawkins said the large international presence at Troy University has contributed to creating an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding.
“It’s by coming together, growing together, learning together, you come to appreciate what you don’t understand,” Hawkins said.
“It is important to be able to disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “If we can teach our students to express whatever they feel is on their mind, without offending others in the process, then that is what we are focused on.”