April Fools' Day gag issues of student newspapers are a tradition, but the papers at two Pennsylvania colleges -- Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Scranton -- took the jokes a step too far this year, resulting in the suspension of both publications.
The editor in chief of The Tartan, the paper at Carnegie Mellon, has publicly apologized following the publication of a racially charged cartoon, and the cartoonist has been fired. The student editors also suspended publication of the independent paper for the remainder of the school year, and the top editor and managing editor then resigned.
The cartoon depicts one animal telling another that he has just hit a black person on a bicycle. The other animal responds, "Oh, just one." The 12-page spoof issue also includes a depiction of female genitalia and poems about rape and mutilation.
About 75 people held a rally on the campus on Saturday to denounce the issue, and the university's president, Jared L. Cohon, called it an "irresponsible and unconscionable act that has created harm to all of our campus."
"The entire piece is an affront to all people of conscience and diametrically opposed to the firmly held values and beliefs of this community," Mr. Cohon said in a written statement released on Monday.
He condemned both the author of the cartoon and the editors of The Tartan for allowing it to run. He also announced that the university had established a commission to review the matter. The individual students may face disciplinary action as well.
The newspaper ran a two-page apology from the editors in Monday's issue, which will be its last until next fall.
At the University of Scranton, campus officals pulled the April 1 issue of its student-run newspaper, The Aquinas, and halted its publication after receiving a complaint that the paper had printed libelous material.
Officials of the Roman Catholic university declined to comment on the specifics behind the complaint, but The Tribune, a local newspaper, reported that the April Fools' issue contained a reference to a priest "caught fooling around with" a woman during a screening of The Passion of the Christ, the blockbuster movie controversial for its graphic depiction of the last hours of Jesus.
The Tribune also reported that the student paper contained off-color jokes, a Jewish-themed musical top-five list, and a spoof of MTV's Celebrity Death Match that portrayed a boxing contest involving current and former university presidents wearing priestly collars.
"The general sense was that it was over the top," said Gerald C. Zaboski, a university spokesman.
He said that the university did not take action until after its Student Publication Board investigated the complaint. The board, whose members include students, faculty members, alumni, and news-media professionals, recommended that that the university remove the April Fools' issue of The Aquinas from circulation and suspend publication of the newspaper immediately.
The board also recommended that the paper's student editor be removed and that The Aquinas develop and publish a statement of ethics before resuming publication.
The newspaper must also meet a set of conditions being developed by the vice president for student affairs before resuming publication.
Mr. Zaboski said that the April Fools' issue is a campus tradition but that he does not recall an issue's ever having been confiscated in more than 20 years. He estimated that just under half of the 4,000 to 5,000 printed copies had been removed by the university.
"The university owns the paper," he said, "and felt it was justified to take this action."