Members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) proposed a resolution on Sunday, March 27 that would separate student publication funding from the Assembly’s Student Budget Committee (SBC). This resolution was proposed following a clash between the SBC and The Argus.
Resolution 8.39, sponsored by WSA Senators Jack Minton ’18 and Mattison Asher ’17, recommends that $60,000 be siphoned from the Student Activities funds in the beginning of the 2016-17 school year to create a Media Publications Fund.
“The groups that represent the media on campus, they do have a little bit of a different relationship than other student groups do, which is why [we need to] really show that separation,” Asher said during Sunday’s meeting.
Should it pass, the WSA would launch a new Media Publications Fund Committee, which would be composed of two WSA elected representatives, a representative from each student publication, and the SBC vice chair. This committee would be responsible for voting on all budget allocations within the fund.
“[The Resolution] notes that the Media Publications Fund will be separate from the Student Activities funds, and thus not under the purview of the WSA,” Resolution 8.39 reads.
The proposal of the resolution came after an intense two-week debate between The Argus and members of the SBC regarding the current allocation of funds.
On March 14, the chair of the SBC Justin Kim ’19 wrote an email to Jess Zalph ’16 and Courtney Laermer ’17, the two Argus Editors-in-Chief, recommending that The Argus’ remaining WSA funding be reassumed by the SBC.
“[The decision to reassume funds] is just one in a series of attempts to undermine our independence as a newspaper and to remove financial support, a movement that began early last semester, when the paper published a controversial opinion piece,” Laermer and Zalph wrote in the editorial.
Kim disagreed with this characterization, as did other members of the SBC. Following the editorial, the SBC wrote a response to the editorial, noting that the ability to reallocate unused funds is a policy written into the WSA’s bylaws.
Prior to the publication of the editorial, Kim said in an email to Laermer and Zalph that the SBC does not support student groups having “rainy day or emergency [funds.]” Kim noted that the SBC has refused to provide money to, or reassumed money from, other groups with these emergency funds.
“Not every group has access to a strong alumni network or can successfully fundraise independent of the SBC,” Kim wrote to Laermer and Zalph. “We expect groups that have the capability [of] independent funds to first use up those said funds before coming to the SBC.”
Laermer and Zalph responded to this in their published response to the SBC letter.
“The donations were expressly solicited and provided to protect our ability to operate as a newspaper without fear of retaliatory defunding by the WSA,” they wrote.
The resolution discussed on Sunday also states that the “Stipends, Academic Credit, and Digitization” Working Group would advise the new Media Publications Fund Committee. The working group was created as part of the resolution, Resolution 3.37, passed last semester. The group has been responsible for conducting research on student stipends, campus publication readership, and advertising revenue.
This continuing relationship between the working group and the media committee would exist in order for the research to be used, Asher explained.
“We want to make sure that the research could have an avenue for utility,” he said.
The group would not have any decision-making power, Asher added. Instead, the new committee would make its decisions, taking the final research report of the group into consideration.
“The way [Minton] and I have imagined it is that the working group will present research to the Media Publications Fund Committee, so…the Media [Publications Fund] Committee can decide what to do with the research,” Asher said.
While next year the funding for the Media Publications Fund would be siphoned off the regular Student Activities funds, the resolution states that beginning in the 2017-18 school year, funding would come from a separate $25 “student voluntary opt-out fee.” That fee was modeled based off that of the Green Fund, which has a $30 opt-out fee with an 87 percent participation rate. This $25 opt-out fee can also be covered by financial aid.
In order for this opt-out fee to be implemented, however, it would first need to be voted on by the entire student body as a referendum later this spring. It would also need to be approved by the Board of Trustees.
The SBC’s response to the editorial hinted at the possibility that the WSA might pass legislation that would separate student publication funding from direct SBC oversight, partially explaining the rationale for the bill.
“A student newspaper requesting funding from a student government structure is inherently ideologically flawed,” the SBC’s response reads.
The resolution is expected to come to a vote on April 3.