The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) passed a resolution on Sunday, April 3 that will create a publications fund separate from the Student Budget Committee (SBC). The bill, Resolution 15.37, was passed nearly unanimously, on a 23-1 vote, with 4 abstaining.
According to Jack Minton ’18, one of the bill’s two principal sponsors, alongside Mattison Asher ’17, the legislation is intended to make publications largely independent from the WSA and to separate the student press from the student government.
“There’s anywhere between a cause for concern to a blatant conflict of interest when a student government is directly funding media publications that, in good conscience, has to be critical of them at times,” Minton said.
As a result of the resolution, the WSA will no longer directly fund student publications.
Starting in the 2016-17 school year, the task of determining the funding for student publications will go to a new Media Publications Fund Committee. That committee will be able to allocate $60,000, taken from the Student Activities Fee and devoted specifically to student publication funding.
Beyond the 2016-17 school year, the bill proposes that funding for the Committee come from a $13 per semester student voluntary opt-out fee, designed after that of the Green Fund. That fee is expected to generate at least $30,000 per semester. If it fails to generate that amount of money, the SBC, according to this resolution, will pay enough for the committee to have a $30,000 budget each semester.
Minton’s hope in having this fee is to further separate the funding of student publications from the student government by separating publication funding from the Student Activities Fee.
“This would really, in every sense of the word, make [publication funding] a separate entity [from the WSA], which we think is the goal,” Minton said. “And again, the goal is not to force these publications to fund themselves. That would again be unreasonable. But if we can make them as independent as possible, we think that can really create an environment where they can do their job.”
However, that particular opt-out fee is in flux. The existence of the fee is contingent on the student body passing a referendum this current semester and the Board of Trustees approving the fee next year. If the opt-out fee is not created, $60,000 will continue to come out of the Student Activities Fee each school year to pay for the fund.
The move to create a media fund comes in response to discussions among Minton, Asher, and others from inside and out of the WSA about how student publications, especially The Wesleyan Argus, are funded on campus. Until the resolution comes into effect next fall, funding for publications and all other student groups comes from the SBC.
Last semester, the WSA passed a resolution, Resolution 3.37, that created a group to conduct research on possible plans regarding stipends, academic credit, and digitization. That resolution came out of and cites a proposal that suggests cutting the printing funding of The Argus by $17,000 to fund new initiatives, and followed a petition that requested The Argus be defunded until the paper met certain demands.
This conflict that emerged last semester between the WSA and The Argus functioned as the spark for discussions between Minton and Asher about proposals that would separate the funding of publications from the WSA, Minton said. After the SBC revoked funding over spring Break from The Argus and the ensuing response from the Editors-in-Chief, Jess Zalph ’16 and Courtney Laermer ’17—who wrote an editorial criticizing the move—Minton and Asher started working on the resolution.
“[There were] a lot of things being said on both sides,” Asher said, of his thinking in drafting the proposal. “How can we ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future and really address everyone’s problems in creating what we view as a compromise kind of a bill?”
Although many questions about the state of publication funding have now been answered, one major aspect of the Media Publications Fund Committee remains uncertain. Under the legislation, the committee has the ability to determine its bylaws, or the rules under which it operates. Those bylaws, according to Asher, are likely to be crafted in April.