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Ousted Yearbook Editor Sues University

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ousted Yearbook Editor Sues University

Article excerpt

A University yearbook editor who was not reappointed because of his use of two controversial photographs has sued the administration in federal court.

Jeffrey Gremillion was notified in June 1992 that he would not be allowed to remain as editor of L'Acadien, the yearbook of the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, apparently because of a controversy over the picture of a bare-breasted female student in bed with a scantily clad male student and another photograph of the university's bulldog mas, cot seated on an American flag. Both photos appeared in the 1991 yearbook.

After several months of negotiation between the university administration and the American Civil Liberties Union had broken down, the ACLU filed suit on Gremillion's behalf in April in U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty's court in Lafayette, alleging infringement of Gremillion's First Amendment rights.

Gremillion is seeking approximately $7,500 in back pay for the editor's position, which pays $700 a month, but he is not seeking punitive damages.

"I wanted to avoid the appearance of monetary gain in this," Gremillion said. "That's never been a priority. We feel we will be treated fairly by the judge. The point is, I was punished be, cause the administration disagreed with how I chose to exercise my First Amendment rights. If I had played by their rules, I would have been reappointed."

Gremillion attended USL under a four-year yearbook scholarship because of his work as editor of his high school yearbook in Ferriday, La. He graduated from USL on May 15 with a degree in journalism and English.

The yearbook editor at USL is appointed by Raymond Blanco, vice president for student affairs, upon the recommendation of a communication committee composed of faculty members. The committee had recommended that Gremillion be reappointed, and Blanco's decision to replace him last year marked the first time he had failed to adhere to the committee's decision.

Gremillion said he was aware the photograph of the couple in bed could prove controversial and that the yearbook's publishing company even had rejected a crisp print of the couple as "obscene." Gremillion resubmitted the picture with a grainy texture and informed the publishing company that he intended to publish it.

He insisted that his decision to use the photograph was "not a rebellious, thoughtless thing to do. I met with the chairman of the communication committee and I met with the committee, not for approval but for advice," he said. "I talked with my professors, I talked with lawyers."

He said he had also contacted the Student Press Law Center in Washington, which advised him that the photograph was on solid constitutional ground.

"I was never given any hint that I would be punished," he argued. "Blanco told me I would be protected." Gremillion said the photograph was in keeping with the theme of that year's yearbook, A Shock to the System'

"We knew we would raise a few eyebrows," he said, but he argued that yearbooks had become dull and uninteresting to college students nationally; some schools have discontinued them.

"We wanted to redirect that trend here", he said. Sex, he added, is an unavoidable element of student relationships.

The uproar over the picture of the bulldog caught the staff by surprise, he said. …

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