By: Emma J. Walsh, Staff Writer, and Alyson Peabody, Editor-In-Chief
Separation from the Senate has been an on and off issue for The Free Press and WMPG for more than thirty years.
As it currently stands, the Student Senate does not intend on funding the Student Communication Board (SCB) with 30% of the Student Activity Fee (SAF). The 30% financial protections were amended into the Student Senate constitution in the late 90s to function as a buffer between the Senate and the media. The SCB is made up of WMPG and The Free Press.
The 30% protections were anonymously removed from the Student Senate constitution in the last ten years without a documented vote from either the Senate or the SCB. The current Senate constitution approved last semester does not include the 30% protections for the SCB. The constitution is awaiting approval from President Glenn Cummings. The main uncertainty at this time is what will happen to the SCB.
The Formation of the SCB
Former staff writer, Jen Palais, reported on a proposed referendum on Feb. 10, 1997. The referendum asked students to vote for or against raising the SAF that funds student organizations, such as the Board of Student Organizations (BSO), The Free Press and WMPG. The proposed referendum would “pave the way for The Free Press and WMGP to separate from the Student Senate,” according to Palais.
An alternative to total separation was proposed, which was the formation of the SCB. The SCB was amended into the Student Senate constitution requiring the Senate to give a percentage of the SAF directly to the SCB. The SCB would then allocate funds to The Free Press and WMPG. Palais wrote that under the SCB, the newspaper and radio station would develop their own budget requests, get approval from their respective Board of Directors, and then seek approval from the SCB.
Former staff writer, Charles Hall, reported that Senators agreed to give the SCB 30% of the SAF on March 17, 1997. Hall wrote, “The Student Senate voted Friday to loosen its control of the campus newspaper and radio station, turning much of it over to a board of students, faculty, staff and media professionals.”
Former Student Senate President, Peter Brown, opposed the total separation, saying, “It’s hard to justify students spending money on duplicating a system.”
Former WMPG Station Manager, Rob Rosenthal said in 1997 that the reason for separating from the Senate was two-fold: political and cultural. “In this country we have a strong belief that the government should not be controlling the media but that’s exactly what we have at USM,” he said. “The potential exists for the Student Senate to say you will broadcast what we want or we will not fund you.”
Separating the Student Senate from the SCB provides distance between the entities to ensure that the “natural tension” between them did not turn to “hostility” and result in a shutdown of the media, said Susan Swain, former associate director of media and community relations. “Students at The Free Press can focus on putting out a good paper and students at WMPG can focus on running a radio station and the Student Senate can focus on being an advocate for students.”
On April 20, 1998 the Student Senate established that the two media budgets [referring to WMPG and The Free Press] must stay within 30 percent of the Student Activity Fee. The shares of the 30 percent must be no more or less than 60-40 percent split between the two entities. The article said, “The Student Senate is required by rules defined last year after The Free Press and WMPG were freed from financial oversight by the Senate, to pass the budget.”
Present day concerns
Student Senate and SCB vice chair, Marshall Woods, said during the SCB meeting on Friday Feb. 21 that the Student Senate is not planning on giving the Student Communication Board 30% of the Student Activity Fee. Senator Marcella Marino confirmed that Alex Holderith, Student Senate Chair (At Large), said the SCB will not receive 30% of the SAF during the last senate meeting on Feb. 14.
Woods said the Senate plans to have the two entities create budget proposals for Senate approval rather than going through the SCB. If WMPG and The Free Press propose budgets directly to the Senate for approval then the SCB will no longer be necessary. “If the SCB isn’t funded for 30% for the spring semester that will establish a precedent,” said WMPG Station Manager Jim Rand during the Friday SCB meeting.
“I’ve heard that one of the past parliamentarians took out the provision in the constitution for the [30%] student activity fee without going through the proper channels,” Nathan Carlow, Student Representative to the Board of Trustees, said during a phone call on Friday. “It happened a long time ago. We have adopted numerous constitutions since then.”
Woods wrote in an email that the issue is about guaranteed funding. “We, (the senate), rewrote the student government constitution last semester and did not include a funding guarantee. All that means is that we have to approve a budget instead of simply giving the SCB 30% of the Student activity fee.”
Carlow said that “from his perspective” dissolving the SCB is “not a feeling any senator has.”
The Student Senate strongly supports the students involved in the SCB programs, according to Holderith. He said that the new budget changes will not, “threaten the existence, funding, or freedom” of The Free Press or WMPG.
“The reasons for our alteration in the manner in which we fund The Free Press and WMPG are many,” said Holderith. “But ultimately it’s about making both entities more flexible in how their funding is allocated and more accountable to the Student Body.” The many reasons Holderith refers to are unclear at this time.
All student groups must submit budgets to the Student Senate, but Holderith said a decrease in funding was not a part of the new budget plan.
Holderith said Student Senate has supported the SCB by passing a “provision into our Financial Policy that forbids any reduction of funding to the Free Press or WMPG that is motivated by something either printed or broadcasted.” He said the Senate is in the process of working to ensure additional protections in other documents.
This article is the beginning of ongoing coverage.