Could George Mason be rolling in his grave?
Virginia school's student newspaper attacked by school officials and student government
VIRGINIA — The student newspaper at George Mason University, the Fairfax public school named after the author of the First Amendment, has found itself under the critical eye of the school’s board of visitors in the last few months.
As a result, the student senate has introduced a resolution criticizing the paper which recommends that the paper’s activities fees be taken away.
The board of visitors asked the newspaper’s staff to explain itself during its January meeting. The board did not make an explicit threat to censor the newspaper after a November editorial ran criticizing the board, but newspaper staff members found the situation confusing.
“It’s ironic that this school is named after George Mason, who is responsible for the Bill of Rights, and they’re threatening to take the First Amendment away from us,” said Stephanie Ogilvie, the newspaper’s managing editor.
Editor in chief Carrie Secondo said she thought that the board would not take any further action. She said that she had not anticipated the newspaper would appear on the board’s agenda for its March meeting as well.
“They’re more concerned with football right now,” she said referring to the proposal to create a football team for the school.
She also said that there was a new newspaper staff in place for the spring semester with better reporting skills. She had expected the board to back off.
But according to Secondo there was a rumor that board member Connie Bedell would appear at the student senate meeting the first week of March. However, she did not attend the meeting.
“She’s still mad at us,” Secondo said.
The newspaper had run an editorial the previous week about Bedell’s actions at a meeting with faculty members. Bedell had criticized and ridiculed the faculty members.
However, at the March 25 board meeting, the university’s legal counsel discussed libel insurance. Board members suggested that their January comments about the newspaper’s content was based on a concern about liability for libelous material.
Broadside had agreed to purchase libel insurance if other publications on campus were also required to do so, Secondo said.
However, Secondo does not think that the board will leave them alone even with the deal in place.
“I would not be surprised if one of the [board] members is waiting for us to say something wrong,” she said.
Instead, the student senate took action against the paper in April. It passed a resolution that was highly critical of Broadside. Some senate members thought that the resolution was too harsh.
“A lot of the statements were combative and unwarranted,” said Student Senate Vice President Jerome Jackson in a Broadside article. “The rest is just pretty harsh; personal issues that are not the opinion of student government.”
The resolution recommended that the $16,000 of student fees that the newspaper receives each year be taken away. The senate says that the newspaper can become self-sufficient through advertising revenue. The resolution also asks that the board of visitors establish a journalism program at the school.
The recommendations were made, according to the resolution, because the newspaper was full of errors and of questionable quality.
Matthew Silverman, one of the resolution’s sponsors, said that his problems with the newspaper lied in its editorial policies, its lack of investigative journalism and that the paper prints “opinions that differ from what the students [on campus] think.”
“I think the role of a newspaper is to support the students,” he said in a Broadside article.
Broadside wrote an editorial in response to the student senate’s actions. The article countered the resolution’s attacks on the paper. It also concluded that possibly the board of visitors was influencing the student senate.
“Could there be a connection between the Board and the sponsors of this resolution?” it said. “Or maybe Silverman is trying to impress them before they decide on next years’ [board] student representatives. Whatever the motives of any of these groups, we stand firmly in our opinions and criticism.”
reports, Spring 1998