While accusations of impropriety and unprofessionalism plague Portland State’s student fee allocation process, a much more frightening cloud of disenfranchisement has blown over the University of Oregon as the student finance committee in Eugene engages in a hack-and-slash campaign of brash defunding.
The Oregon Commentator, Eugene’s prototype for the Portland Spectator, has been defunded completely by the committee. The Daily Emerald, U of O’s student newspaper, was cut by some $8,000 (narrowly side-stepping a complete defunding) and a host of other groups have been given the ax.
While it may be necessary to eliminate the funding of outmoded campus groups no longer active, the U of O finance committee’s actions far exceed appropriate or prudent action.
Take, for example, the case of the Emerald. Finance committee members cited a lack of diverse viewpoints and a less-than-100-percent pick-up rate as reasons for defunding the paper.
Student funding of publications is supposed to ensure that campus rags have the ability to print anything that students need to hear, whether it is Left, Right or simply right. Reducing the allocation of funding for a newspaper whose content displeases student government or university officials is both illegal (according to the vast majority of court precedent) and inappropriate.
Expecting every copy of every paper to be picked up and read is a laudable goal every newspaper shares, but is utterly unrealistic. To reduce funding for a publication on these grounds is a fine admission that the finance committee doesn’t understand the business model used by all newspapers and should not have financial oversight of the paper’s accounts.
Earlier this school year in Eugene the Emerald printed a story about a student government retreat that turned into an "Animal House"-like affair.
Since then, the Emerald and Commentator have excoriated student government in a fine show of editorial prowess and snarky indignance, respectively. If this coverage has in any way influenced the committee’s funding decisions, student government in Eugene is a travesty of democratic representation.
Journalists are unpopular people. We nitpick, critique and uncover the unsavory realities of the world. Everyone knows someone whose misdeeds have been made public by newspaper accounts. The impact of that coverage is rarely beneficial to the career of the individual exposed. But arguing that papers shouldn’t cover this kind of impropriety is akin to arguing that attorneys general shouldn’t investigate corporate misconduct as it could cost innocent people their jobs.
If every newspaper in this country was defunded after printing material critical of the status quo, Neil Goldschmidt would still be making policy about higher education and the fate of PGE and no one would know of the horrible atrocities that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison.
In a society like that, so far from democracy as we know it, it is unlikely that student government would exist at all.
Of course, in Eugene, that would be the silver lining.