On Sunday, Oct. 18, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Senate gathered to discuss and vote on Resolution 3.37 “Stipends, Academic Credit, and Digitalization for on Campus Publications.” After about an hour of consideration, the WSA voted to pass the resolution 27 to zero with four members abstaining.
The resolution was written by Alex Garcia ’17 and is co-sponsored by WSA Vice President Aidan Martinez ’17 and Student Budget Committee (SBC) member Justin Kim ’19. In its current form, the resolution will seek to reduce funding to The Wesleyan Argus by one half and redistribute it to other publications on campus in the form of paid worker positions and allowances for digital innovation.
The resolution comes in the wake of a controversial Opinion piece published in The Argus in early September. Following its publication, over 150 students, including WSA President Kate Cullen ’16, signed a petition calling for the defunding and boycott of The Argus until the publication enacts a series of structural changes.
Now that the resolution has passed, beginning in the fall of 2016 the WSA plans to implement 20 work study positions within a handful of student publications. The cost of those positions will be $15,000, according to the resolution, with an additional $2,000 planned for targeted Facebook ads and website improvements.
While the document states that “other funding sources may also be proposed,” the only currently proposed funding source is The Argus’ printing funds, which are renewed every semester by the SBC. The WSA plans to create a working group to decide the details of the resolution; this group will be spearheaded by Garcia and some members of the WSA Senate, and will be open to members of student publications.
The SBC is in charge of allocating money acquired through the annual Student Activities Fee, which is “set by students to support student activities” and charged as part of tuition, according to the University website. For the 2015-2016 academic year, that fee was $270.
The resolution suggests reducing The Argus’s annual budget by 57 percent, from $30,000 to $13,000, for the 2016-2017 academic year.
The Argus, which was founded in 1868, is recognized as the oldest twice-weekly student newspaper in the country. The current parameters of the resolution would place tight restrictions on the number of issues The Argus would be able to print each semester; an explanation written by Garcia and published on kaiwes.com suggests that The Argus print “only special edition issues.”
While the WSA pushed for an early implementation date during its Sunday meeting, President Michael Roth expressed hesitation about reducing The Argus’s funding immediately following the campus controversy.
“I do think that 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 said on Monday morning.
Roth also discussed the notion of sustainable funding as brought up at the WSA Senate meeting. He pointed to other groups on campus that receive large amounts of SBC funding.
“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.”
Historically, the SBC supported a number of paid worker positions within The Argus, but it revoked this funding in the 2012-2013 academic year. The Argus continues to fund between nine and 10 workers through advertising revenue.
According to its description on the Kai Wes website, the resolution’s authors argue that The Argus must prioritize “people over paper.”
According to 2010 data, the University’s peer schools’ newspapers, including The Wellesley News, The Trinity Tripod, The Amherst Student, and The Mount Holyoke News, do not pay their writers or editors.
The WSA will hold another vote to decide on the remaining parts of the resolution either at the end of the spring 2016 semester or the beginning of the fall 2016 semester.