‘Stop making decisions through autocratic and secretive measures’
Wesleyan University’s student newspaper may have thought that it reached detente with the student government, which sought to defund the Argus last fall for publishing an op-ed critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) has made clear, however, that its grudge is as strong as ever.
Over spring break the paper saw its remaining funding for the school year yanked without warning by the WSA, which based its decision on the private donations the Argus has collected since its funding was threatened.
Emergency funds are not allowed?
The Argus has been aware for months that its funding for next year could be slashed, but the spring 2016 budget yank was a surprise.
After student activists trashed print copies of the Argus and circulated a petition demanding the defunding in response to the op-ed, WSA passed a resolution that makes up to $17,000 of the paper’s $30,000 budget available for paid positions at a host of campus publications.
“It’s time for the Wesleyan Student Assembly to stop trying to defund The Argus,” Editors-in-Chief Courtney Laermer and Jess Zalph wrote in the March 21 editorial.
Though alumni believed that their donations would go into a fund that would keep the Argus afloat should its funding be endangered again, that safety net has become an excuse for WSA to retaliate, the editorial said.
The WSA claims that its bylaws don’t allow the Argus to receive student funding as long as it has funding from other sources – so-called rainy day or emergency funds – but it doesn’t appear to be able to cite those bylaws.
In an open letter to the Argus staff, the Student Budget Committee (SBC) said it is not defunding the paper but simply reassigning “idle” funds to other groups, though it made clear that it wants to re-examine funding the Argus at all.
The paper’s donation fund, which includes more than $12,000, “came as a surprise as the Argus failed to disclose that they received outside funding when asked directly on their funding request form and in their SBC meeting,” the committee wrote.
The $10,000-plus that the Argus hasn’t yet used from student funds “can make an incredible difference to a variety of student groups, most of which do not have the Argus’ revenue or fundraising capabilities,” the SBC said.
The Curious Case of Botched Bylaw
The committee claims that “Article VI, Section 2, II, F” outlines the idle-funds policy. But as noted by City University of New York Prof. Angus Johnson, an historian of student activism who often sides with progressive campus activists, this passage “doesn’t seem to exist in the version of the WSA governance documents that is posted online.”
Instead, the rules about funding appear to fall under Article VI, Section VI.07, II, F, which simply states that student government “reserves the right to reassume any funding allocated to a group before the end of the school year,” though not before April 1. The SBC told the Argus in mid-March its funds would be reclaimed.
In addition, WSA’s governance does not lay out rules about third-party donations or funding. Section D of the funding bylaws explicitly states “Any funds not allocated by the SBC […] but deposited into that group’s account shall remain in the account indefinitely,” though it doesn’t list any possible source of those funds.
“This seems to suggest that while SBC funds revert, independent funding doesn’t—which in turn suggests that it’s not appropriate for the WSA to pull money from the Argus’s SBC account to force it to spend its fundraised money,” Johnston wrote.
My thoughts on a dispute between the student government and the student newspaper at Wesleyan. https://t.co/NEngtLe3lE
— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) March 23, 2016
The editors rebutted the SBC’s claims in a followup statement, saying the unspent student funding was intended to pay for publishing the rest of the semester and to pay vendor bills.
The request for donations was not intended to put the Argus “back in the same position of being completely dependent on the WSA” and subject to its whims, they wrote.
The Argus petition sees the budget yank as another attempt by WSA to force it “to go completely digital,” which would mean the loss of not only its production and layout staff, but also “thousands of dollars per semester” in print ad revenue that pays for its staff.
Stop donating to Wesleyan until WSA backs off
One commenter on the petition, former Argus Editor-in-Chief Paul Rooney, said he would end his 25-year practice of donating to Wesleyan annually “until the WSA cuts out the crap.”
He encouraged the Argus to “send back the donations and spend the WSA’s money” so the paper’s supporters “can go back and do this right.” The editors should also lead a campaign against the WSA members who are “stealing” its funding and support “pro-free speech candidates” to replace them.
The contention began when Argus columnist Bryan Stascavage wrote that he could not support the Black Lives Matter movement “[i]f vilification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion” of its message. (Stascavage was also a contributor to The College Fix.)
In December, Wesleyan alumni who worked for the Argus submitted an open letter criticizing the effort by activists and student officials to punish it for its opinion content.
“The incident represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the press and its opinion pages,” wrote the alumni, some of whom went on to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Associated Press.