The article “Concerns linger over V.O.I.C.E. Initiative” provides yet another example of the ASUC’s fuzzy definition of independence. Last spring, a majority of students approved the creation of a mandatory fee to support the campus daily newspaper. If this simple fact, according to ASUC President Conor Landgraf’s comments, requires The Daily Californian to renounce any claims of being an “independent newspaper,” how can this be reconciled with the ASUC’s own claim of being an “independent” — or its synonym, “autonomous” — student government? The ASUC, as we all know, funds an even larger proportion of its operations from a mandatory student fee and has been doing so for decades.
The ASUC’s claims to independence are, in fact, much more tenuous than the Daily Cal’s. The ASUC, including its graduate component, the Graduate Assembly, often receives discretionary funding directly from the chancellor and other campus administrators. Since 1998, the ASUC has been unable to manage its own businesses or hire its own staff but rather must do so through the ASUC Auxiliary, a branch of the campus administration. And even if the ASUC and Graduate Assembly appoint a majority of the ASUC Auxiliary Commercial and Student Services Board, the board’s decisions ultimately require approval by the chancellor.
It is true that some of The Daily Californian’s funding now depends on the whim of the student body, as the fee could be canceled at any point through another student referendum. Yet the large majority of its funding still depends on the whim of advertisers. It is difficult to see how the Daily Cal’s independence — particularly its editorial independence — is threatened by this partial change in revenue stream, from one group of “clients” to another.
We could go further and argue that if the Daily Cal should be accountable to anyone, it should be the student body as a whole, rather than any external organization. In North America, there are numerous examples of student newspapers organized as nonprofit corporations, governed by a student-elected board that is independent from both the campus administration and the student government.
The fact that fee moneys will be collected by the university and transit through the ASUC should not be an excuse to give campus administrators and ASUC officials arbitrary control over the newspaper. Instead, these officials should work with the Daily Cal to establish some form of accountability to the greater student body, as discussed above, while keeping the paper free from political interference. Let’s hope that they are up to the task.
— Philippe Marchand,
doctoral student, former Graduate Assembly officer and Commercial and Student Services Board member
Contact the opinion desk at [email protected]