Two weeks ago the student government of Wesleyan University voted to cut the budget of the school newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus, from $30,000 to $13,000. Many Wesleyan students were upset by an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement and had signed a petition calling for the Argus to be defunded unless it met certain conditions. According to The Hartford Courant, the student government hopes the budget cut will increase the diversity of views expressed in the Argus.
The student government plans to distribute the $17,000 cut from the Argus to four university publications (including the Argus) to fund paid work-study positions. The student government hopes this will remove a financial barrier to writing for school newspapers, thus increasing the diversity of viewpoints. While ensuring the representation of diverse points of view on college newspapers is a laudable goal, the approach undertaken by the Wesleyan student government may undercut that effort.
There are many ways to ensure the representation of diverse viewpoints in a college newspaper. Typically, college newspaper opinion sections are open to all students and their respective viewpoints. Additionally, given the large number of students who took issue with the Argus op-ed, students could have sent in a letter to the editor expressing their strong disagreement with it.
While the newspaper and its leadership often have a role in what op-eds are published, it is also a matter of what students choose to write articles for the newspaper. In this regard, the solution is improving outreach. The newly created work-study positions will alleviate this somewhat, but the funding cuts will still have a negative impact on the paper and what the student government is trying to achieve.
Cutting a newspaper’s operating budget by over 50 percent is likely only to make production vastly more difficult. Though its implementation of work-study programs may facilitate a broader expression of different types of views, the cut made to pay for these positions is so severe it is more likely to negatively impact the operations of the Argus and take away opportunities for recruitment, developing writers, and improving the quality of the newspaper.
This controversy also exemplifies a potentially harmful precedent in a student government’s control over a newspaper’s funding. A college newspaper often covers the actions of the student government, and there could be concern that criticism against student government may lead to consequences in the way of funding cuts. Though it is not exactly what happened with the Argus, it still creates a potential hindrance to freedom of the press.