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Public university restores funding for student newspaper after outcry against censorship

Easier to gut the budget than talk through differences

The University of Mary Washington learned that the best way to resolve disputes is to talk through them, not to pick up your ball and go home.

The Virginia public university has restored funding to its student newspaper, The Blue & Gray Press, after zeroing out its print budget and provoking a national outcry by journalists and advocacy groups.

A student leader and administration official both suggested that the powers-that-be didn’t like the content of the paper, pointing to a task force that would address its “quality” and “repair” the paper. Hence, the budget cut could get the university sued for First Amendment retaliation.

The administration then officially cited the reason for the budget chop as responsible environmental stewardship.

The Student Press Law Center, which led a campaign to restore the print funding, reported Wednesday that the funding was restored in full on Friday after Editor-in-Chief Lauren Closs met with the student finance committee:

Closs said she presented a plan to address the committee’s concerns about distribution of the paper. She said the committee also suggested that the number of papers left at distribution sites be counted at the end of each week.

“I am glad that we were able to have a discussion and reach a reasonable distribution-related solution,” Closs said in an email. “It is my hope that continued open discussion will see the quick resolution of issues in the future without threats to funding.”

MORE: UMW axed student newspaper because … it hurt the environment

The Free Lance-Star reports that the budget cut “sparked an outcry from some alumni, professors and press advocates who viewed the move as an attack on the First Amendment”:

University officials cited distribution issues—including stacks of unread newspapers throughout the campus—as the primary motivation, but a Student Press Law Center attorney said he had reason to believe the newspaper’s content played a factor.

UMW Dean Melissa Jones, the Finance Committee’s adviser, said in an email to The Free Lance–Star that Blue & Gray Press reps agreed to “create … a distribution plan to address the challenges of excess and unread newspapers on campus” during a recent meeting at which the committee reconsidered and approved the newspaper’s request for $13,666.

And in an email to Blue & Gray Press editor Lauren Closs, the Finance Committee—which disburses student-fee revenue to clubs—wrote that it “appreciates your renewed passion for distribution and would like to establish an open line of communication throughout the year as your club develops comprehensive plans to increase and track circulation.”

The university claims the “task force” mentioned by its own official would have been created inside the newspaper, not an external body.

Read SPLC and Free Lance-Star coverage.

MORE: UMW guts budget for 96-year-old student newspaper, citing ‘quality’

IMAGE: STUDIO GRAND OUEST/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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