I am writing to urge the Wesleyan Student Assembly to reconsider its recently approved proposal that threatens to cut the Argus’s budget. As a Wesleyan alumnus and long-time journalist, I was alarmed to learn that the Student Assembly had unanimously approved an initial plan that would punish the Argus largely because of a single unpopular column.
Although some members of the Student Assembly deny it, that plan smacks of censorship. While I’m all for establishing work-study positions at the Argus to make it easier for less affluent students to work there, it unfortunately appears that the Student Assembly would finance those work-study positions by taking money from other important parts of the Argus’s budget. To me and to many others, that is, plain and simple, a partial defunding of the Argus.
The Student Assembly’s plan tentatively envisions cutting the Argus’s print budget to $13,000 from $30,000. Some Student Assembly members maintain that they have not formally voted for a partial defunding of the Argus, although their initial vote strongly indicates plans to do exactly that. Along with many others, I view the plan to slash the print budget as an attack on free speech and freedom of the press – a move that apparently aims to punish the Argus for its much-criticized Op-Ed by Bryan Stascavage.
While the Student Assembly has good intentions in seeking to increase diversity at the Argus, it has failed to make a convincing case that its plan to partially defund the Argus isn’t a direct response to protests over the Stascavage column.
Like many in the Wesleyan community, I thought it was a mistake for the Argus’s editors to publish that column in the form it ran. I found parts of that column poorly argued, poorly reasoned and outright incendiary, and I believe the editors should have required the writer to refine his arguments before publishing his article. In my view, it was wrong and offensive for Stascavage to suggest that Black Lives Matter was not legitimate, as if people of color don’t have full First Amendment rights to protest police killings of unarmed civilians.
As part of our nation’s great history of free speech, people and the press are given wide latitude to say and publish inaccurate, poorly reasoned and even incendiary things. At a liberal arts college that is supposed to cherish and champion free speech and the robust exchange of ideas, the way to respond to such statements is with more speech and more argument. It is not to censor or to punish – or in this case, to partially defund the Argus.
To me, it seems positively Orwellian for some supporters of the Student Assembly’s plan to suggest that their move to cut funding for the Argus’s print run has nothing to do with censorship, retaliation or the Stascavage column.
If the Student Assembly thinks that the Argus’s staff doesn’t have enough diversity, then make that known to the Argus’s editors and give them the rest of the school year to achieve more diversity. And if by next September the diversity situation hasn’t improved sufficiently, then take action next September. But to act so soon after the protests about the Stascavage column makes the Student Assembly seem intolerant and anti-free speech. And if the Student Assembly thinks the Argus’s print budget is too high, fine, but don’t all of a sudden map plans to cut that budget so soon after Stascavage’s article appeared.
I imagine that there are many ways to finance work-study positions at the Argus that would not involve diverting money from other parts of the Argus’s budget. Indeed, I have faith in the Student Assembly and the Wesleyan administration that they can figure out how to finance the work-study positions in ways that don’t undermine free speech and freedom of the press.
As I said, the Argus, in my view, made a mistake in running the Stascavage column in the form it ran. We all make mistakes. College is a learning experience in which we are expected to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. As a former editor-in-chief of the Argus, I was very proud that the Argus’s editors realized and admitted that they had made a mistake and then wrote a thoughtful editorial apologizing and promising to address problems of diversity.
I hope that the Student Assembly will similarly acknowledge that it made a mistake in approving its initial resolution envisioning cuts in the Argus’s print budget. I hope the Student Assembly has the wisdom to reverse that decision.
If not, many people inside and outside the Wesleyan community will not soon forget how the 2015-2016 Student Assembly kicked free speech in the teeth by approving an initial resolution to partially defund the Argus — all over a single misguided student article.
Greenhouse is a member of the Class of 1973. He is a retired New York Times reporter and a former Editor-in-Chief of The Argus. Last fall he taught a Wesleyan course on nonfiction writing and journalism.