Board of Trustees student representative proposed defunding student media

Kyle Wilkinson, Photo Editor

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Editor’s Note: The Observer stands by the accuracy of its previous reporting on the content regulation issues first outlined for its readers in the Nov. 7 issue.

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CWU

The CWU Board of Trustees’ student representative Alex Harrington proposed the complete and immediate defunding of student media at the Nov. 20 Services and Activities (S&A) meeting if the student media faculty advisers do not offer “acceptable” solutions to the conflict that has developed between The Observer, Central News Watch and certain administrative units of CWU. Harrington read a resolution draft into the record. 

Harrington said he didn’t believe media outlets were adhering to their purpose on campus and using their funds appropriately by publishing what he said was “false” information. 

Harrington, a senior political science major, was appointed to this position by Governor Jay Inslee and his term will run through June 2020. He has worked as an office assistant for the Dean of Students and is a voting member on the Services and Activities Fee Committee, the Student Conduct Council and the Election Commission. 

In regards to the Board of Trustees, Harrington is a full voting member “on all issues except matters related to hiring or discipline of personnel, tenure of faculty, and collective bargaining agreements,” according to CWU’s website. 

On Nov. 6, The Observer published an editorial outlining issues of content regulation and censorship by some departments on campus. Following the release of the editorial and a corresponding protest, staff members from The Observer and Central News Watch met with CWU administration and ASCWU to discuss a potential solution on Nov. 18.

“It came to light that a lot of the information in the articles that were published, were false,” Harrington said during the Nov. 20 S&A meeting.

Harrington went on to say that student media was aware the information was false before it was published and that the consensus between all parties at the meeting with student media, administration and ASCWU was that there was no censorship in these instances.

“We could not come to a consensus about student media publishing the fact that there was no censorship even though we came to the consensus that there was no censorship,” Harrington said.

“If they had that information, decided to publish it, then to me that shows a pretty deliberate and malicious attempt to kind of misrepresenting the actions and statements of individuals within the campus community,” Harrington said.

“The Observer and Central News Watch never agreed that there was no censorship,” Online Editor Mariah Valles said in a Nov. 19 Yakima Herald article. “There do not need to be corrections on our previous reporting.”

According to the S&A website, The Observer annually receives $54,061 and Central News Watch receives $10,000. 

S&A Board member Joseph Bryant pointed out that the committee cannot make decisions based on the content student media publishes. Student media are protected by solid press freedom laws, he said, recalling the legal advice provided to him by the assistant attorney general for the State of Washington.

“I would be very intentional on our end to avoid any parts of content factoring into this for issues of not only [that] this could very absolutely be viewed as censorship of student media if we were to cut funding based on us not liking the content of an article,” Bryant said. “Or it could also be viewed as retaliatory by the university or by the committee.”

Bryant again stated that the S&A Committee would not be the correct place to address these issues on campus. 

“I think it’s totally acceptable for us to be able to ask student media to come and answer questions as it relates to the spending of their allocation or is in line with what was being said,” Bryant said. “However, our purview would not be on the content of what is being published and posted there.”

Members of the committee also raised concerns about the specific wording of Harrington’s resolution. Lacy Lampkins, who advises the S&A Committee about the use of student funds, pointed out the delicateness of the words “misused funds.” Lampkins also said student journalists do not have a say in where funds are allocated.

“We fund The Observer to print the newspaper. So are we questioning how they’re spending the money to print the newspaper?” Lampkins said.

One of the board members, music professor Martin Kennedy, asked about the seriousness of using the word “malicious” instead of “negligence” when Harrington referred to student media’s “malice” in its reporting.

“There are a lot of words I use, but malicious, that perks my ears up when you said that,” Kennedy said. “‘Malicious’ is a different thing.”

S&A Parliamentarian Eric Bennett requested that the committee not speak further on this topic until after the new year because he felt it sounded like retaliation against students. 

 “By us taking their funding away, we’re basically ending their production and that, in my mind, is censorship,” Bennett said.

Harrington recognized that students in media ultimately have no say in how their funds are allocated. 

“It’s not like we would bring in students,” Harrington said. “They have no bearing over the overarching mission of the organizations or their funding or anything like that. It is more of a question of the general mission of what we are funding and how we’re funding it.”

Those in attendance of the S&A meeting decided to hold off on discussing the matter further until January. 

In an interview on Dec. 4, Harrington stood by the resolution he submitted during the S&A meeting on Nov. 20. He connected the defunding of student media to the overarching struggle of student loan debt and fees. Harrington said he was concerned that student media wasn’t actually providing a service to students by deliberately publishing material that he claims is known to be false.  

“As students who are contributing fees to a fund like S&A, my perspective is that we are essentially shareholders,” Harrington said. 

Harrington wants to bring the student media business manager and advisers into a meeting to discuss possible solutions for the issue. These individuals will be asked to attend an S&A funding meeting in January. He also said that he’s heard very little from staff, and that a student-led conversation would be valuable. 

S&A is currently working with a subcommittee that would initiate contact with students to hear their views on various issues with S&A. 

Harrington addressed student media’s goal to provide content that related to students and campus. The issue stems from the lack of publishing accurate material that benefited students, according to Harrington.