North West Student Government Blocks Press From Some Meetings – JONATHAN TURLEY

We have regularly discussed the growing attacks on free speech on college campuses, including Northwestern University. Protesters in Northwestern blocked loudspeakers while claiming there is ‘no free speech for openly racist white dudes’. They prevented classes from discussing ICE policies. However, the student government has now added an attack on the free press by voting to block media from meetings to protect students from criticism over their advocacy. Even the dean of the school’s prestigious journalism school called the action hostile to the free press.

the Daily North West reported that the student government vote was unanimous to ban the media from certain meetings. It only pledged to provide “minutes to reporters for closed meetings, withholding speakers’ personal information.”

Student government member Assem Belhadj explained:

“It’s about how to make sure that student activism within the ASG can be protected so that students can speak up and have the freedom to speak out on issues without having that fear that what they say will be exaggerated and that they will be publicly criticized. .”

So these are government meetings, but the students don’t want to be held accountable for what they say or demand. What is striking is that Northwestern has been regularly criticized for its cancel culture where students seek to silence opposing viewpoints. Yet, in seeking government action, students do not want to be identified with seeking controversial measures.

Aside from denying the rights of the free press, including the college newspaper, the move violates decades of open government-based sun laws.

Illinois’ open meeting law embodies this policy, which assumes that meetings will be open and interprets exceptions “strictly”. The OMA states that “it is the intention of [the Illinois] Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies are taken openly and that their deliberations are conducted openly. 5 Ill. Comp. Statistical. 120/1 (West 2005). The narrow exceptions deal with matters such as disciplinary action, collective bargaining, dismissal, etc. They do not include a general power to meet in camera.

Obviously, this is a private university and not subject to the OMA. However, Northwestern student government is now moving to insulate its student government from public scrutiny and accountability. This is a deeply troubling lesson for students who believe government should be less transparent and advocates should be less accountable in seeking official change. Also, even if you want to allow people to speak at meetings without identifying themselves, meetings (and student representatives) should still be subject to media and public scrutiny.

The question is whether this is a matter left entirely to students at a university. We have faced a similar question when student governments have targeted individual students for unpopular views. The university should have its own policy on student government and open meetings. Just as student governments must act consistently when it comes to freedom of speech, they must do so when it comes to freedom of the press.

  • For the record, I have a degree from Northwestern University.