Rack History

2012 Independent Florida Alligator Dispute with the University of Florida

Since the Alligator became independent of UF in 1973, it has distributed its print edition on campus through news racks placed at locations it selected.  The news racks are occasionally relocated to better serve the needs of the dynamic campus population.

In the fall of 2009, university administrators proposed to the UF Board of Trustees a rule that would prohibit distribution of all publications on the campus unless approved by the UF vice president for business affairs or his designee.

The university published notice of this proposed rule change but made no effort to directly notify any representative of the Alligator. The Alligator was not aware that this rule had been proposed, and the Alligator did not appear before the Board of Trustees to oppose the rule. The Board approved the rule on Dec. 11, 2009.

At about the same time, the university drew up a plan to purchase modular news racks to distribute multiple publications on campus. Again, nobody at the Alligator was notified. The plan also called for the removal of privately owned news racks. If publishers wished to continue distribution on campus, they would be required to sign a licensing agreement and lease space in a university-owned modular rack.

The vice president would have discretion to allow some continuing distribution through private racks at approved locations.

The university made no study of the effect this might have on the distribution of the Alligator or other publications.  Administrators explained they had proposed the rule and developed the plan in order to improve campus aesthetics and safety.

The university notified the Alligator and other newspaper publishers of its plan in Fall 2010 after it had acquired its modular news racks and started placing them around the campus. The Alligator objected that the plan might have a serious detrimental impact on its distribution.

Representatives of the Alligator met with representatives of the university on June 17, 2011.  Alligator representatives asked university officials to postpone implementation of the plan until tests could be done at several locations to determine whether the change would have an impact on distribution. They also objected that the rule allowing the vice president for business affairs to determine how and where newspapers may be distributed on the campus violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as follows:

  • The rule does not contain clear and specific criteria to prevent its use for censorship.
  • While the university may impose design and safety requirements for news racks on campus, it may not require use of news racks that it owns.
  • The license fee is an improper tax on speech.

University officials responded that they did not believe that using its modular racks would harm distribution of the Alligator or that the rule violates the First Amendment. They also noted that publishers of other newspapers, such as The Gainesville Sun, had agreed to license the modular racks and to pay the fee.

The university nevertheless agreed to allow the Alligator to conduct a distribution impact test. The Alligator designed the test and began gathering data for the test during Fall 2011.  During the Spring 2012 test, the Alligator removed five of its news racks and began using university-owned modular racks and gathering distribution data at those sites.

At the end of the spring semester, the Alligator submitted the data it gathered to professor David Denslow Jr., at the UF Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The Alligator asked Dr. Denslow to determine whether the change from Alligator news racks to university-owned modular news racks would impact distribution and then to report his conclusions.  Dr. Denslow has not yet completed his work.

On July 3, the university advised the Alligator that although Dr. Denslow had not completed his analysis, it would proceed with its plan by removing Alligator news racks from campus on August 15.

The Alligator is deeply concerned that the university’s action may adversely impact distribution of the Alligator and ultimately jeopardize its ability to continue publication. The board of directors of the parent company will evaluate its options in the days and weeks ahead and it may need your help.

If you would like to continue to be advised about this matter and how you might be able to help, please send a note to Patricia Carey, general manager of parent company Campus Communications, Inc. at tcarey@alligator.org; Thomas R. Julin, attorney for Campus Communications, Inc., at tjulin@hunton.com; or Clare Lennon, editor of The Independent Florida Alligator, at editor@alligator.org.

Thank you for your support.

Letter from the editors – May 26, 2011

2 Responses to “Rack History”
  1. Brian says:

    To raise awareness in the Fall, you should have people dressed completely in orange, with the Independent Florida Alligator logo on their clothes, acting as mobile newspaper racks. At the same time none of the newspaper racks that may still exist should be filled for that week. That way people will make the human connection to those who help bring the paper to campus, as well as realise the difficulty in trying to “find” the newspaper racks if they were blended in with others.

  2. Pat McCarthy says:

    This is a very badly disguised attempt to stifle free speech on campus. I support the idea of wearing orange one day in the fall to protest this reprehensible policy. The fees are most telling point of these new rules. We won’t let you put your own boxes, that you already own on campus, and you must pay a fee for the privilege of being in ours. Yep, struggling student publications won’t have the money, so no struggling student publications to criticize the University anymore! Problem solved, if you hate a free press. Will the University buy the orange boxes from the Alligator to provide the money for their Black Box fee? Or will the University waive the fees for financially strapped student newspapers? Somehow, I just don’t think so. Where is the ACLU when you need them?

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