Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Silencing Their Own College Paper: Montclair State Student Leaders Flunk Lesson In Governance

1/31 UPDATE: The SGA came to its senses, at least for the time being.

Ron Playing Chicken With the First Amendment; Newspaper Feud Over Open Meetings Leads to Cutoff of Funds

Maybe the unfortunately named Ron Chicken, president of the Student Government Association at Montclair State University in New Jersey, had read too many obits for Suharto, the former Indonesian dictator.
Maybe he didn't get a good grade in one of his political science classes and decided to enact his own brand of government.
Or maybe he's just an idiot.
Either way, for now he's silenced the college's newspaper, The Montclarion, by yanking funding for the first edition of the semester. The paper's been sparring over access to SGA meetings, while the SGA accused the paper of improperly hiring a lawyer who advised the editors on their rights under the state's Open Meetings Law.
Chicken and The Montclairion are unfortunate bedfellows, in that the paper is actually part of the SGA, and depends on it for $16,500 in funding, according to the Bergen Record. It's a longstanding arrangement, and a dangerous one, as The Montclarion has now found out the hard way.
At the four schools where I had some form of higher education, the newspapers were all independent corporations one way or the other, something editor-in-chief Karl de Vries realizes should now be the case.
"If The Montclarion is to act as a watchdog, then it has to be completely independent of the SGA," he told The Record. "If Richard Nixon were running The Washington Post in 1972, then I'm sure we never would have heard about Watergate." (full disclosure: I don't know Karl, but I did work with his Dad for many years at CBS).
Not surprisingly, Chicken is too chicken to talk to the media, continuing his streak of unaccountability.
Beyond muzzling the media, the larger issue is exactly what does the SGA think it has to gain by not granting access to its meetings. After all, it's spending money paid by students who are going to a state university.
Yet somehow, Il Duce, or should I say, Il Pollo and the rest of the poultry running the government at Montclair State believe they're not a public body and subject to scrutiny.
Which is why, of course, you need a newspaper keeping close tabs on their activities. I suspect the SGA's FUBAR move has been enough of a PR disaster for the school that the administration will lean on Chicken & Co. enough to get them to capitulate. And perhaps, then, also order them to take a remedial civics lesson in the process.

1 comment:

LloydStamps said...

Great column, Steve.

Disclaimer: I did work with Steve for many years at CBS, and I'm Karl's father :)

Steve, I couldn't figure out how contact you directly.