The Editorial Read around the World
By David Welch
Unigo Campus Rep at Colorado State University
Colorado State University takes pride in its subtle but groundbreaking strides in university academia. CSU Rams speak softly but carry big sticks. That is, however, until four words splashed across an editorial of the university’s school paper last fall and sparked a national controversy that brought CSU into the national spotlight.
“I remember opening the paper and seeing it. I knew this wasn’t going to go down easy,” remarked Trevor Wallace, 22, a senior Marketing major.
The majority of CSU students felt this way in the early morning hours of Friday, September 21, 2007, when they peeled back the front page of The Rocky Mountain Collegian to see the words “Taser This: F*** Bush,” printed in the editorial section.
“It wasn’t just the statement, it was the size of the statement that made it stand out,” said Jessica Eagleson, a 22-year-old liberal arts major. “It was like an anti-Bush poster.”
Addressing the recent tasering of a University of Florida student while asking John Kerry questions, editor-in-chief David McSwane decided to exercise his free speech by using the editorial section as a springboard to express his animosity toward the current administration.
“As local and national media will inevitably jump on this controversy, I strongly urge the university community to try to understand that the intentions of the students on staff, including me, were not to cause harm, but rather to reinforce the importance of free speech at our great institution,” McSwane said shortly after the publication.
CSU is primarily known as one of the nation’s leading research and development universities for natural resource and veterinarian studies. It is located in the mid-sized town of Fort Collins, which was named “The Best Place To Live” by Money Magazine in 2006. Hardly the type of school to bring its school paper into the national spotlight.
Within a week every major national news network featured the headline, with McSwane being interviewed about the decision to run those four significant words. Thousands of letters were written to the paper from all over the world, praising and condemning the editorial.
“CSU is usually a really chill campus, everyone is cool with each other and gets along fine,” said Jay Lorenger, a 20-year-old engineering major. “But there was this tension on campus and everyone was talking about the F*** Bush print,” he said.
The campus was divided. Battle lines were drawn. Reverberations of the editorial sparked protests and debates. Four days after the editorial ran, Republicans on campus hosted a public protest, and started printing their own student paper, The Ram Republic.
While McSwane and The Collegian were attempting to draw debate on campus, the fallout from the editorial was much worse than expected from a university newspaper. The Collegian lost $30,000 in advertising revenue and dozens of businesses in Colorado refused to hire any CSU grads until McSwane and the editorial staff were properly punished.
Time gradually healed the bitterness. David McSwane went before the Board of Student Communications (BSC) to plead his case and was found that while his use of profanity was in bad taste, he did nothing wrong.
The president of the university, Larry Penley, issued a statement regarding the national uproar: “While student journalists enjoy all the privileges and protections of the First Amendment, they must also accept full responsibility for the choices they make.”
Students returned to their good-natured ways and started living the good life again. “During the first two weeks after the editorial, you would go to parties and see the message on a refrigerator or people talking about it,” said Kellen Woods, a 22-year-old psychology major. “But everyone eventually let the drama go.”
The editorial heard round the world is still fresh in every Ram’s mind, but the atmosphere around campus is focused less on controversy and more on change.
“Other than the election, no one talks about politics anymore,” Woods said. “We learned our lesson.”
The lesson was learned, Rams were again unified, and went back to the things they do best: speaking softly and carrying big sticks.
Many of the businesses and surrounding communities began hiring CSU graduates and changed their views of the university.
Students’ heated debates are now about which ski resort had the best terrain park this winter and if rafting at the nearby Poudre River is as challenging as jetskiing at Horsetooth Reservoir. It is all about priorities nowadays at Colorado State, and since those four words graced The Collegian, public protests and national controversy has been at the bottom of those concerns.