In apparent defiance of state law, San Diego State University's student newspaper has published editorial opinions on ballot propositions, and today's edition endorses candidates running in the major races for political office.
The endorsements of candidates in races including U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, governor and state Assembly will add the Daily Aztec to the growing number of student papers in the California State University system defying rules against unsigned political editorials.
In a survey taken last week by the California State Student Assn., 12 of the newspapers on the system's 19 campuses indicated that they would be writing such editorials, either signed or unsigned. Four publications, including the Daily Aztec, have issued endorsements in recent weeks.
"We feel (the CSU ban) is unconstitutional," said R. Andrew Rathbone, editor in chief of the Daily Aztec. "It's clearly a violation of free speech."
SDSU President Thomas Day on Monday refused to say until the endorsements appear whether he would take action against the Daily Aztec or its editors for violating the rules. He said that the newspaper's position on Propositions 56, 61, 63 and 64, which have appeared in the Daily Aztec in recent weeks, were more informational than opinionated.
"I'll see what the circumstances are and I'll see what the editorial is, and I'll see what's in the best interests of San Diego State," Day said.
Rathbone said, however, that Day has told him he would not enforce the regulations because he believes they are unconstitutional.
Asked about that remark, Day said that "it's my job to be bound by the board's policy, and I accept that. If the board has a policy that I feel is morally repugnant . . . then I'm obligated to resign." He added that the publication policy is not one of those circumstances.
Last week, Cal State Fullerton President Jewel Plummer Cobb threatened action against the campus paper, the Daily Titan, for publishing an endorsement in the governor's race. Humboldt State and Fresno State newspapers have again published endorsements this year.
Two years ago, the student editor of the Humboldt State University newspaper was suspended for running political endorsements. The student, Adam Truitt, sued the university. The case is pending.
Day, however, took no action when the Daily Aztec published endorsements during the election two years ago.
CSU regulations forbid campus newspapers, which are considered auxiliary organizations of the state if they receive funds from the university, from publishing unsigned editorials on ballot proposals and political candidates. The University of California and the state's community colleges have no such prohibition.
Gov. George Deukmejian on Sept. 30 vetoed a bill that would have allowed editorials that carried a disclaimer indicating that they were the opinion of the newspaper staff. In his veto message, Deukmejian said that the right to set such policy rests with the CSU trustees.
In Monday's editions, the Daily Aztec urged other CSU system newspapers to defy the ban by issuing endorsements.
"For CSU newspapers to endorse that right they must, as we have, defy the unjust ban on endorsements and openly endorse candidates," the editorial said. "If this is illegal and lands in court, then the courtroom will be the arena in which we fight to have such injurious education code policy changed for the good of CSU newspapers."
In defense of the policy, Day said that "a student newspaper is not the same as a privately held, for-profit corporation whose (right) is to give its own point of view. It's more of a neutral forum for information."
In the wake of Deukmejian's veto, Day suggested that the Daily Aztec's editors take the issue to court instead of defying the regulations.
Mayer Chapman, vice chancellor and general counsel for the CSU system, said that unsigned editorials in student newspapers might leave unclear whether the endorsement is the opinion of the staff or the university. It also would involve an organization receiving money from the state in state elections, he said.
But Rathbone said that the Daily Aztec's status as an auxiliary organization at SDSU "is a gray area" because the newspaper supports itself through advertising revenue. Its only connection to SDSU is free office space donated by the university and SDSU's policy of paying the newspaper's utility bills, he said.
"It's one of those things that has never been spelled out," he said. "Even the lawyers are not sure until it's taken to court."