In 2006, when I was editor-in-chief of The Cavalier Daily, I woke up one December morning, put on a suit and walked to my car to drive to Richmond. I was going there in order to give a deposition about how the newspaper’s rights were being infringed upon by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control—which, based on extremely flimsy evidence and a misguided sense of what was best for our readers, had decided that Virginia college newspapers had to have their rights to print advertisements for alcohol heavily limited. On the way to my car, I stopped at Alderman Library, and from a rack in the lobby I happened to pick up a copy of C-Ville Weekly. On the back cover was a full-page color ad for beer.
In the library.
Yet the Virginia ABC prohibited The Cavalier Daily from printing the same advertisement. It was clearly absurd. It was an insult to the paper’s valuing of free expression. Today, it’s very gratifying to everyone who was involved across the years—from when the paper first started to engage seriously with the lawsuit in 2005 until now—that the Fourth Circuit has recognized that what the state was doing was unconstitutional.
Seven years at The Cavalier Daily is a lifetime. It’s nearly enough for nearly two generations of staff to come and go, and more than enough time to ensure that no one on staff knows your name.
We may have filed the lawsuit in the year I was editor-in-chief, but The Cavalier Daily‘s leadership turns over every year. What allowed the paper to pursue such a long project were the core strengths of its culture. Every day, the paper shows both its staff and the wider community the value of free expression in our civic life. It produces journalists and citizens who defend both theirs’ and others’ right to speak freely, and who do it with zeal. The University and alumni should be very proud.
The other constant throughout this long process has been the support of the ACLU of Virginia, and particularly Rebecca Glenberg. Rebecca has devoted many years to seeing this case through. She and the ACLU deserve our credit and thanks. The Cavalier Daily‘s co-plaintiffs and colleagues at Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times also deserve applause for their dedication in sticking with the case and continuing to press forward with it despite setbacks.
I will not offer the traditional Thomas Jefferson quote. Instead, I will simply note that questioning the wisdom of arbitrary authority is at the core of higher education, of journalism and of citizenship in America. In this case, we can consider that value exemplified.