The student government at UCSB is trying to punish the campus newspaper financially for selling ad space to a company that the elected student council finds politically offensive.
The Associated Students Legislative Council voted 13-5 this week to withhold the portion of student fees that augment the budget of The Daily Nexus because the paper is running full-page ads for Conquest Student Housing, a property management company that evicted approximately 55 low-income families in the fall.
Although the legality of the student council’s move is still in question, the dispute highlights the unique nature of student-run newspapers, and is providing students real-life lessons in government subsidies, social responsibility and freedom of the press.
The Daily Nexus editor-in-chief, Kaitlin Pike, said the vote sets a troubling precedent: Government censorship of the student-run newspaper.
“That would be like the president of the United States telling The New York Times to stop printing because they are being too mean,” said Ms. Pike, a political science major, who added that she may pursue legal action if the asset freeze is approved by university administrators. “I don’t project my morals onto any advertisers here — it’s not my job. It’s the readers’ job to decide that.”
Jeronimo Saldana, the student council member who authored the resolution, which would take away 7 percent of the paper’s revenues for the winter quarter, countered that the student council is just doing what is socially responsible.
“If the Nazi party wanted to advertise for genocide, would you put that in the newspaper?” said the Chicano/Chicana Studies major. “I know it’s an extreme example, but where do you draw the line? Do you really need to profit from the eviction — from the suffering — of these families?”
He added that the government body has the right to withhold its contribution when the paper breaks the rules.
This fall, in response to how Conquest evicted the families — most Latino — in order to upgrade the units at the Cedarwood Apartments in Isla Vista and lease them at higher rates , the student council unanimously passed a resolution stating that the student government body would pull its funding from any entity that did business with Conquest. Now Conquest is advertising to fill those units.
The Associated Students Legislative Council collects fees paid by students and apportions them to the intended entities. The Daily Nexus receives 85 cents per student every quarter and 55 cents per student during the summer session, amounting to approximately $48,000 a year.
The Daily Nexus, which has a circulation of approximately 11,000, pays its entry-level copy editors minimum wage and reporters $18 a story. Taking away 7 percent of its budget, Ms. Pike argued, would jeopardize some of those jobs, which she views as learning opportunities.
At least one Latino advocacy group that protested the mass eviction at the 55-unit complex in the 6600 block of Picasso Road supports the student government’s decision.
“They are going to try and turn (Isla Vista) into a completely student-only community, and pretty much get rid of the low-income families already there,” said Ana Rizo, executive director of the PUEBLO Education Fund.
Ms. Rizo said she disagrees with the assertion that the decision infringes on the paper’s First Amendment rights, saying she likens what the student council did to pulling an advertisement.
“They get money from the A.S., therefore . . . it is within the right of the legislative council to make that decision. The resolutions actually mean something. They are not just a piece of paper.”
But J.P. Primeau, one of the five council members who voted against the fund freeze, disagrees.
“In a nutshell, the student government is trying to censor the newspaper,” said the pharmacology and business-economics major.
Mr. Primeau said he, too, opposed the eviction of the families. “It was totally a race issue; (Conquest) knew they couldn’t afford it.”
But he said most of the student board members are conflating the issues.
“Now it’s become more of an emotional issue for some people on the board,” he said, but “this is a First Amendment issue.”
Conquest officials did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, UCSB’s 17,000 students will get their say in April when they will vote — as they do every two years — on whether to continue paying the fees for The Daily Nexus and other services, such as the campus yearbook. Ms. Pike said she believes the polls, and not the boardroom, is where the decision should take place.
“If students voted (to drop the fee) I would respect that, because that’s the students’ voice,” she said.
The Associated Students Legislative Council meets again at 5 p.m. Wednesday, in the “Flying A” room of the University Center. The meeting is open to the public.