Thursday, March 11, 2010

Babysitting the Student Media and Senate

Back in my old firebrand journalism days I thought I was pretty hot shit with my Student Media Credentials in 2004.

When the Student Senate tried to impeach the Student Body President for underage drinking there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth (admittedly created by the paper itself). The situation only got worse when entire Senate announced it was going behind closed doors to make its decision.

Accusations were thrown around about how our First Amendment rights were being stifled... free speech was being choked out...lawsuits were pending for this egregious attack against the student media and, in the end, the students themselves... Then things really got out of hand.

Police were called to handle security and beat back the wild-eyed reporters that were trying to break into the closed meeting.

With the threat of a billy club across my skull if I attempted to cross the police barricade, I stood outside and waited with the Vice Chancellor and director of student activities — who had come out to watch the fireworks of what was supposed to be a physical beating of the Student Body President...

Being intrepid, and slightly retarded at the time, I cornered the two staff members and began grilling them about why they were allowing the Senate to make a mockery of our fine institution.

"No comment."

Only they did not just say 'No Comment.' The two senior leaders were flat out blowing me off. Not because they were hiding anything or cared one way or another how things turned out.

"It's like watching them play adult." the Vice Chancellor said to me a few months later when I had moved on from the student paper

The staff that oversaw all the student activities had met before any student meetings or police were called. They knew what the outcome was going to be (no matter how the Student Senate voted). So no amount of huffing and puffing from the students newspaper or the Senate was going to rattle them.

"You were playing your part in the whole thing and we were not going to stop it," one staff member told me when I asked about it here recently

At the end of the day, they were still in charge and they knew on Monday morning next week they would still come to an office and continue to watch the students play adult...

Fast forward to our current debacle in Lawrence:

The Student President there has proposed the idea of cutting — and even eliminating — the fee students pay that goes to the student newspaper. The fee is collected each semester and makes up about $83,000 that goes to the University Daily Kansas each year (from what the UDK was reporting).

He has an axe to grind with the student paper and the student paper is a bit defensive when it comes to money — as all print publications have in the last decade.

Tempers are flaring. Chests are being pounded. Indignation is running rampant

Sure, we could get into a lengthy argument about the meaning and use of student media and its practical applications in education. Or, we could resort to citing court cases that forbid cutting funding from student media on the basis of like or dislike. We could even go so far as to talk about the financial pit we would sink those working reporters and editors into by cutting their salaries.

Instead, the one piece that everyone seems to be missing is that the Chancellor and student staff have the final say. And they have already made their decision.

Their plan is already sketched out in neat university letterhead. Whether the fee gets cut was already been decided by someone with a higher pay grade.

The students senate can pout and vote until it's blue in the face and the newspaper can run editorial temper-tantrums, but both, just as college organizations have done for years, playing adult.

And everyone has their part to play.


blythe said...

I think there's always the possibility of changing things if you make enough of a ruckus.

And I remember that night at Dear Old Varsity. It was FUN, right? Wasn't that (secretly) the point?

Some were fried to cinders, as I recall ...

The Wednesday Weekly said...

Oh, I do not deny the fun we had through the ruckus and ballyhoo we kept stoking with our fire-worn pokers...