Over 700 students voted this week to approve the amended Student Government Association Constitution—which alters approximately 40 percent of the text in the document—resulting in the removal of the 20-year old clause guaranteeing funding to the student newspaper, The Berkeley Beacon.
According to Patrick Comeau, elections commissioner, 1,096 students—almost one third of the student body—participated in the vote, making it the most popular election in more than 10 years. Last spring, less than 300 students voted in the election for current SGA President Jeffrey Rizzi.
The results were broadcast at 8 p.m. Wednesday night on WECB, a student-operated online radio station.
According to a previous interview with SGA Vice President Tau Zaman, the 40 percent of textual changes include more precise commissioner descriptions, moving the chief justice position to the executive board, and an amendment to Article Four, Section Four which previously stated that the “Financial Advisory Board shall allocate eight percent (8%) of the student activities fees collected to the student newspaper, to be dispersed at the beginning of the fall semester.”
Currently, the Beacon—Emerson’s sole student newspaper—receives eight percent of the Student Activities Fee to cover printing costs and office supplies. The new changes will require the Beacon to continue to submit the same FAB packet as other organizations, but without the guarantee of funding.
The new constitutional amendment alters Section Four to state “All SGA recognized organizations must submit the proper paperwork, as detailed in the guidelines created by the SGA Treasurer in conjunction with the Associate Dean of Student, to be considered for budget allocations by the FAB.”
Alexander Kaufman, editor-in-chief of the Beacon, said he wasn’t surprised with the results.
“When you pit journalists against politicians, the latter are bound to campaign better,” said the junior political communication major. “The truth of why the eight percent clause was originally included is far more complex to explain to the average voter than a simple and dangerously misleading ‘We are the 92 percent’ slogan.”
The controversy surrounding the removal of the Beacon’s guaranteed funding—an amendment put in place to eliminate potential conflicts of interest between the media and the government it reported on—erupted into a firestorm of debate the weekend prior to voting.
“I think it exploded over Facebook, and it turned into a screaming match rather than a debate,” said President Jeffrey Rizzi, a senior performing arts major. “Parties from both sides were guilty of slander, parties from both sides were guilty of personal attacks, but that’s what happens with politics sometimes.”
While the majority of discussion took place via social media, advocates for and against the amendment took various approaches when reaching out to voters.
“Once I learned that student government operatives were slipping fliers under freshman dorm doors, I lost much of my hope,” said Kaufman.
Zaman, who played an active role in publicizing the election, said he is extremely happy with the turnout of voters, and hopes to see student involvement continue.
“I’m ecstatic,” said the junior political communication major of the results. “The student body got informed about this issue. As far as concerns about freedom of the press; the freedom of the press isn’t being taken.”
Scott Fisher, who graduated from Emerson in 2010 after serving three years as President of SGA, said he was shocked to hear of the turnout for the election, as well as the results. Fisher said he would be extremely surprised if the policy were to remain in place.
“As SGA president, I often heard SGA members complaining about Beacon coverage, and now some of those same members are now the strongest advocates for this amendment,” said Fisher in a phone interview. “There is a reason that this has been in place for over 20 years, and I think that when a group of students are able to look at the question from a more objective standpoint, it will be put back into place.”
Rizzi said that despite the results of the election, he doesn’t see any possibility of the Beacon losing funding.
“I’ve said all semester that actions speak louder than words,” said Rizzi. “The Beacon will continue to function as an organization and serve the student body, but the fact that one third of the student body voted for it makes me feel as though it is the best thing for the community.”
Kaufman said that despite the threat to journalistic integrity imposed by the new amendment, current members of the Beacon will remain steadfast in their critical coverage of the student government, fearless of how it may affect funding. Rather, Kaufman said his concern lies in the future generations of the newspaper.
“I worry that future editors may be subject to the control of the SGA’s ire,” said Kaufman. “We on the editorial board plan to continue to fight for some kind of new legislation that will grant future editors the same editorial impunity the editors of this newspaper have enjoyed for two decades.”
Beacon editor-in-chief Alexander C. Kaufman did not edit this story.