That’s a profound abuse of power

It is a sad month for college newspapers everywhere when the word immaturity re-enters the lexicon of college journalism critique. The most recent embarrassment occurred at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., where the newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, had a choice phrase in response to the Sept. 18 tasering incident at the University of Florida.

In response, the newspaper ran a large, bold-face message, beginning with “Taser this,” and ending with an expletive in front of President Bush’s name.

J. David McSwane, the editor in chief of The Collegian, quickly came under fire from student groups and others at the university. The school’s College Republicans issued a petition for his resignation. McSwane defended his right to free speech and his refusal to resign.

A board overseeing the paper’s decision-making process slapped McSwane on the wrist. He received a formal reprimand for unethical use of vulgarity, but retained his editorship given the First Amendment.

While we applaud the purist implementation of First Amendment rights in this case, it is undeniable that this flagrant abuse of free speech will prove damaging for its defenders. It’s reckless choices such as McSwane’s that embolden those who would constrain our ability to publish unpopular but important opinions. If you find yourself hearing a glut of anti-First Amendment tirades in the next few weeks, you’ll know why.

Opinion should not be exploited to make gratuitous, inflammatory remarks. Journalists of all ages and backgrounds must uphold their obligation to inform tastefully, even in an editorializing capacity. As a college newspaper serving Northwestern and Evanston, we recognize the dual responsibility to function as any community daily while respecting our NU ties. We want to bear the collegiate journalism brand with pride, not with disdain for our colleagues who have proven themselves reckless at handling the power of the pen.

Crisis alert system delay major issue

We’re pleased the administration plans to implement an emergency-notification system for use during crises. The combination of on-campus loudspeakers, phone calls, text messages and e-mails should get everyone notified quickly. But waiting until January to implement the system seems ridiculous, especially since other schools had similar systems up and running just weeks after the April tragedy at Virginia Tech that inspired this effort.

About 20 universities signed up for a mass text-messaging service called e2campus by the end of last May. While NU’s plan improves upon that basic service, no stopgap measures have been implemented. If a Virginia Tech-like incident happened here tomorrow, we would be woefully, and unnecessarily, unprepared.

Moreover, while the administration’s plan does improve on what most universities have done, it does have some bothersome problems. It would put a hold on registration for students who don’t provide a cell phone number by Winter Quarter, regardless of whether students have a cell phone number.

It’s also important to note that cell coverage is next to nonexistent inside many campus buildings. The system won’t be effective until that problem is resolved.

But by far the biggest problem with the plan is the date it’s scheduled to go online: January 2008. That’s eight months too late.