Official tries to strike paper's funding

Trustee claims The Breeze is blowing university money on negative comedic insert

VIRGINIA -- James Madison may have been the author of the First Amendment, but an official at his namesake university does not like the idea of a free, campus-funded student press.

Charles Cunningham, a member of the university's board of visitors, has tried to sever school funding of James Madison University's student newspaper twice-once as a student and now as an administrator.

Cunningham asked the university administration at a March 23 board meeting to prepare a report detailing the funding and operation of The Breeze because of an insert the newspaper began publishing this year called Turf. Cunningham said he does not think Turf positively represents the university, according to Breeze editor Julie Sproesser.

Sproesser said Turf is a "comedic, satirical entertainment magazine ... it's supposed to be funny."

But after a friend sent Cunningham a copy of the Feb. 26 issue, he told the board he was unhappy with the publication and wants the university to stop using student fees to fund the paper. The Breeze receives about $36,000, or 8 percent of its revenue, from student activity fees. The money is now allocated through the school's media board.

According to Sproesser, Cunningham attempted to eliminate university funding of The Breeze when he was president of the student government in the early 1980s.

Fred Hilton, director of university communications, said there has been conflict between the student government and the newspaper before, which is why the student government no longer determines the newspaper's fee allocation.

It is unclear whether the funding will actually be cut, however.

"That's a possibility [Cunningham] did raise," Hilton said. "But whether it would go any further than that, whether it would get to the motion stage or be approved, is another question."

David Wendelken, an associate professor in JMU's school of media arts and design, advised The Breeze for 25 years. He said cutting the newspaper's funding because of its content is illegal. And because Cunningham has suggested cutting only the newspaper's funding and not that of the campus radio station, yearbook or literary magazine, it seems clear the threat is based on content, Wendelken said.

The university's report will be presented to the committee of education and student life at the June 8 board meeting. Sproesser said no one has contacted her about the newspaper's management or financial procedures.

For now, she said, the staff is trying to determine what to do next.

"We're going to be on guard and do our research and I guess wait," she said. "I don't think it will go through there seem to be many voices yelling out that this is a bad idea."

reports, Spring 2001