Free speech on campus can be a serious struggle for those who hold independent conservative views.

Allie Grasgreen in Inside Higher Ed reports on an small win for a group of young, conservative journalists claiming censorship at Oregon State University:

Administrators at Oregon State University who signed off on the seizure and disposal of a conservative student publication’s distribution bins might have to go to trial after all, after an appeals court on Tuesday overturned a ruling dismissing the students’ complaint against them.

Two of three members of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that the student journalists had provided sufficient evidence to make a claim of free speech violation, but were prevented from presenting it because the lower court judge erred in not letting them amend their lawsuit. Officials at the university may have violated the students’ right to free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the majority wrote in OSU Student Alliance v. Ray.

And even though top-level officials, including the university’s president, evidently didn’t order the confiscation directly, the mere knowledge of it could be a violation, the court said. As a result, the lawsuit will proceed.

The lawsuit has clear implications for administrators regarding how they can (or can’t) regulate student publications’ distribution bins, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. But on the whole, he said, while distribution issues arise from time to time, the issues the complaint addresses are not the most prevalent ones surrounding student press freedom.

“A policy that gives some administrator complete and total discretion to decide where and when people can give out newspapers is never going to fly under the First Amendment. It sets up too much opportunity for mischief and retaliation, which I think was a concern that you saw underlying the majority opinion,” LoMonte said. “Most places, they’ve learned to peacefully coexist with newspapers and they realize it’s not a hazard or an obstruction or a hindrance to them doing business…. I don’t know that there are hundreds more situations that are analogous to this that are going to be immediately influenced.”

In short, the university removed and threw out the outdoor distribution bins of The Liberty, a conservative and independent student newspaper, and when confronted by student editors, referred to an unwritten and never-before-enforced policy dictating where on- and off-campus publications could place bins. Oregon State did not remove any other bins, including those of clearly off-campus publications.