Questioning 'Black Lives Matter' costs student paper $17k

The Wesleyan Student Assembly voted unanimously Sunday to cut the student newspaper’s printing budget by more than half in retaliation for its publication of an op-ed critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The resolution, which passed 27-0 with four abstentions, calls for the creation of 20 work-study positions at various campus publications starting in fall 2016, which The Wesleyan Argus reports will be financed through cuts to its annual printing budget.

While the resolution does leave open the possibility that “other funding sources may also be proposed,” its current iteration specifies “print reduction” as the exclusive financing mechanism.

In addition to the $15,000 needed to pay for the new work-study roles, a further $2,000 is earmarked for Facebook advertising and website improvements, bringing the total cut to $17,000, or about 57 percent of the paper’s existing $30,000 budget.

The resolution is the culmination of a controversy that has simmered since September, when Campus Reform first reported that WSA had received a petition calling for The Argus to be boycotted, and its funding cut, until the editors would agree to a list of demands including the creation of work-study/course credit positions, the completion of semesterly “Social Justice/Diversity” training by all staff, and the establishment of a permanent section on its front page dedicated to “marginalized groups/voices.”

The petition was made in direct response to an op-ed the paper had run earlier that month in which student Brian Stascavage argued that the Black Lives Matter movement is being undermined by extremists who call for violence against police officers while claiming to speak for BLM.

The WSA has disguised its recent resolution as an attempt to improve campus publications broadly, saying for instance that it will use online readership statistics and data from the Facebook ads to determine how the work-study positions are allocated among the various outlets, and that it will reduce paper waste by cutting The Argus’ weekly printing from 3,000 copies to 2,400. Nonetheless, it is widely acknowledged that the shakeup is the culmination of retributive efforts that began with the boycott petition.

University President Michael Roth, for instance, issued a statement Monday saying “any decision about student publications made in the wake of a controversial op-ed should be understood with real caution, and the concern about sustainable funding is not something that should... target... newspapers about which there are content concerns.”

Roth seemed to dismiss the notion that the WSA was merely caught up in a fit of fiscal responsibility, pointing out that other programs would present more attractive targets if that were the true objective.

“It may be the right thing to reduce the number of copies of The Argus or any other group, but if sustainability is going to become a filter for the WSA in a systematic way, I don’t think that’s where you would start,” Roth said. “I mean, the fund for Spring Fling is many times, I think, what The Argus gets, and I’ve never heard anyone [propose a reduction of its funds]. I am concerned, from what I heard in advance, that the [content] concerns get translated into other issues.”

Similarly, at a panel held last week to discuss the controversy, Professor Frank Harris III of Southern Connecticut State University responded to one student’s question about the resolution by asserting, “That’s always not a good idea in terms of student government or any outside place trying to tell how to structure a newspaper.”

Harris supporting that opinion with an example from his own institution, where the administration once attempted to take control of training the student newspaper’s staff in an effort to stifle controversial opinions, only to be rebuked by a student referendum that “[got] the funding out of the hands of student government and into the hands of the students.”

Although no such recourse is currently on the horizon at Wesleyan, The Argus is looking to shore up its editorial autonomy in other ways, notably by appealing for donations on its website.

“The Argus is completely, and importantly, independent from the University,” the appeal states. “We need your help to ensure that The Argus can continue to be the reliable, high-quality newspaper that it has been since 1868.”

According to HuffPost, the paper will need every dime it can raise to save its print edition. Even cutting its print run in half would only save about $5, the article claims, because the vast majority of printing costs are consumed by the initial setup.

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