Back in September, Wesleyan’s 147-year-old student newspaper the Argus published an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. The article, written by a sophomore, featured lines like “It is plausible that Black Lives Matter has created the conditions for [rioters] to exploit for their own personal gain.” It was dumb enough, evidently, to inspire the governing Wesleyan Student Assembly to vote on Sunday to slash the newspaper’s annual budget down from $30,000 to $13,000. According to Reason, the WSA also justified this budget cut by stating that reduced newspaper circulation means a reduction in “paper waste.”
Wes student government members also called for the paper to be boycotted altogether over the decision to publish the op-ed. A few weeks ago, I spoke to Argus Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Brill for an article for NYU Local:
[Brill] told me that two Sundays from now, WSA will hold a vote to determine whether or not the university should continue to fund the newspaper. Following outrage over the op-ed and the subsequent petition, she said that some of her friends have stopped speaking to her. She told me that anti-Argus activists, many of whom hold spots in student government, have been throwing out and in some cases burning stacks of the newspaper regularly distributed around campus.
I caught up with Rebecca Brill again on Sunday night to see if the situation on the ground had improved any, and to find out what this will mean for the Wes paper going forward. As editor-in-chief of NYU’s independent news blog—we’ve never received university funding—I can’t imagine what it must be like to see physical copies of writing you’ve labored over being burned by fellow students. It’s a free speech nightmare that seems to belong in a different century.
“I feel like the op-ed drama has for the most part died down, which in many ways is great because like, I can leave my house,” Brill said. “But also it’s kinda frustrating because as I reminded everyone in the WSA senate meeting today, we need to remember that an op-ed that made people upset is the root of this entire conversation. But all the op-ed stuff is being divorced at this point, and is being framed as an amalgam of measures toward racial diversity, socioeconomic diversity, saving money, and environmentalism.”
In addition to getting their funding largely chopped, the Argus will now compete against other Wesleyan publications for university funding. Brill explains: “As the resolution is now, the publications with the most readership (this would be found out via Google Analytics) would each get 7 work study positions (stipends of $90 per month) and $800 to be used toward Facebook credit or website updates. The third and fourth place publications would be selected in a student vote for the publications of their choice—these would get 3 work study positions (also $90/month) and $200 for Facebook credit or site updates.” If left unchanged, these resolutions would go into effect next fall.
That one dumb opinion piece could be the impetus for such drastic change at a major university is a testament to the fact that words matter; it’s therefore incredible, and incredibly ironic, that the newspaper itself is being penalized so harshly.
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Image via AP.