Every year, in every Associated Students election here at UCSB, the students are given a series of fees to vote on. And every year, we approve almost all of them.
It’s always easy to spend other people’s money.
Budgeting isn’t terribly hard; anyone with basic math skills, a decent amount of self-restraint, and the right priorities in life can design a sound personal budget. Politicians consistently fail to balance the federal budget not because they lack these skills, but because they just don’t care. There are no direct consequences for going over budget with public funds. It’s the taxpayers who will suffer as a result, not the politicians.
Unfortunately, we at UCSB often think like politicians, not like budgeters, when faced with a list of AS fee reaffirmations and increases. This isn’t our fault. We’re all young and most of us have relatively little experience with money. Many of us, myself included, aren’t paying for college directly, but are relying on our parents or financial aid. We reflexively vote yes on these fee-related initiatives so often because we have so little to lose.
In the meantime, the most economically disadvantaged students – the ones who need college the most – bear the heaviest burden of what is essentially a regressive tax on all students. UCSB students, regardless of economic standing, pay over $550 a quarter in campus-based fees, or more than $1600 a year. For an impoverished young person in Isla Vista struggling to attend UCSB, this might cover a good portion of a year’s rent, food, or textbook costs. The concerns of these students, however, are rarely heard during the election cycle, which is dominated by more well-off students (including myself) who have far more free time to get involved in AS and far less direct need for fiscal responsibility.
However, a few fee increases are so obviously excessive that even most UCSB students cannot get behind them. Examples include the long-standing “sobering center” proposal, and last year’s Student Union Revitalization Fund, which would have demanded more than $60 per student per quarter until the middle of the 21st century for a UCEN remodel. Both of these proposals failed at the ballot in the 2014 AS elections, and yet this year every single fee reaffirmation and increase on the ballot was approved, except for a single one – the proposed fee increase for the Daily Nexus.
Why did students strike down the Nexus increase and nothing else? Perhaps they do not feel represented by the school paper, perhaps they found the fee increase unnecessary, perhaps they felt it disingenuous that, as a recent UCSB Confession said, a “daily” newspaper is now only publishing a weekly print edition. To me, such concerns are irrelevant. I voted no on the Nexus increase and reaffirmation, but I did so out of principle, not emotion. The Nexus could be the best newspaper in the world and I would still vote against funding it through AS for the same reason that I voted against funding The Bottom Line and other forms of student media, regardless of my personal feelings about each, because I do not believe that the government should ever be in the habit of funding the press.
Why? There are a few reasons. For one, as I elucidated above, there is the issue of fiscal responsibility. But government funding of the press in particular is uniquely problematic for even bigger reasons.
Consider this: in 2007, the Daily Nexus ran an advertisement from Conquest Student Housing, a group that was on an AS blacklist at the time for having recently evicted a large number of Isla Vista tenants. As a result, the AS Legislative Council voted to freeze all funding to the Nexus, audit its finances, and call for a resignation of its lead editors. Although the resolution was eventually vetoed by the AS president, this anecdote perfectly encapsulates the inevitable problems that emerge when government and the press get Frank Underwood/Zoe Barnes cozy with each other.
The job of the Daily Nexus is to report on news stories in our community, including the actions of Associated Students, in a critical and unbiased fashion. This simply cannot be done if the Nexus is receiving Associated Students funding, especially if such funding has been held over its head in exchange for good behavior in the past. Such a conflict of interest interferes with the ability of the Nexus to act as an independent evaluator of the student government, rather than a mere mouthpiece of AS akin to Pravda in the Soviet Union. This is a severe blemish on the face of freedom of the press, which, as we have often been reminded, is the nexus of any democracy.
The Nexus lock-in fee is voted on directly by students, but this does not eliminate the risk that AS will abuse the money entrusted to it. So long as Nexus funds are funneled through student government, they will always have the potential to be used as a tool of bribery and coercion, as they were in 2007. Another freeze may not seem likely at the moment, but sooner or later it will happen again. When it does, the Nexus cannot hinge its survival on the willingness of the AS president to utilize his or her veto power.
It is fair to ask students who may vehemently disagree with me to pay for my platform?
Public funding of the Daily Nexus is particularly problematic because it asks the students to fund the dissemination of opinions with which they may not agree. I have written for the Nexus before, and my editorials have sometimes been controversial. It is fair to ask students who may vehemently disagree with me to pay for my platform? It is fair to demand that a devout Muslim student be forced to fund an article critical of the Islamic religion, as Nexus editorials in the past have been? Is it fair to demand that a gun control advocate who lost a loved one to gun violence be forced to fund an editorial in support of the Second Amendment? Is it fair to ask a Jewish student with family in Israel to fund an editorial in support of divestment from Israel, or a refugee from Gaza to fund an anti-divestment article? This is what we are asking, so long as the Nexus publishes and disseminates editorials using public funds. And so long as it does, the Nexus must watch what it publishes. It can only push the envelope so far, or run the risk that an offended group of students will move to defund the Nexus, either through a direct funding freeze or through campaigning against Nexus reaffirmation in the AS elections.
The current system of AS-managed funding is not the only way that the Daily Nexus can fund itself. A system could be conceived that would allow students to pay for the Nexus directly, without student money passing through the middleman of AS. Rather than giving out papers for free as it currently does, the Nexus could sell print copies at newspaper kiosks or at stores on campus and in the surrounding community for a small fee, perhaps 10 or 25 cents. In addition, students could buy subscriptions to the Nexus for a few dollars each quarter. This would not come at increased cost to students; the student body would pay no more into the Nexus than it currently does, but the costs would be paid with each individual paper or subscription sold rather than with a flat rate fee paid by everyone. Such funding would be augmented by current (and potentially increased) funding from advertisements and sponsorships. This proposal is not unattainable. Most newspapers in our country fund themselves in such a way. The finer points might take some time to work out, but this plan is doable.
The benefits of such a system are numerous. First, only those who read the Nexus would be made to pay for it. We would no longer be forcing struggling students in our community to pay for a paper they may never read. Second, it would eliminate the loss to the Nexus by “free riders” – individuals who visit campus and read the paper without having paid any AS funds for it. Third, it would give the Nexus a direct profit motive, which always has a positive effect on product quality. And finally, it would free the Nexus from the inevitable political entanglements that arise when a free press tries to represent an entire body of students. Students who do not like the newspaper could simply choose not to buy it.
I am writing this article because I have faith in the Daily Nexus, perhaps even more faith than it has in itself. I believe that the Nexus can support itself without Associated Students, and I believe that it should. For as long as the Daily Nexus accepts student funds, it will be shackled. Only when freed from this monetary conflict of interest will it ever be free to become the news source that it has the potential to be.
I believe that the Nexus can take flight.
The question is, does it have the courage to spread its wings?
Jason Garshfield is a third-year political science major
First: a thanks. Our primary currency is that of ideas.
Mr. Garshfield is perfectly justified in examining the shortcomings of the lock-in fee system, where a concentrated mobilization of A.S. executives and presidential action could result in the freeze of student body funding to a specific organization. However, because the Daily Nexus is not an A.S. organization, they do not have the power to do this to us. We are funded by the students through our lock-in fee, which “can only be cancelled with a 60 percent vote in opposition to the fee, with at least 20 percent of the Associated Students’ membership voting,” according to the current legal code.
Although there is a section that explains, “All groups with an A.S. Lock-In have guaranteed funding through their lock-in, but must have the distribution of these funds approved by Senate,” it does not, however, give Senate the ability to freeze funds at their will. Once again, we are not an A.S. organization. We receive no money from A.S. Rather, we receive the students’ money through A.S.
Additionally, regarding the ’06-’07 Student Conquest Housing issue, the measure to freeze the Nexus’s funds was vetoed by the president for a number of reasons — primarily that the boycott did not apply to us, as we do not receive A.S. funds. Thus, A.S. did not have the ability to exact this punishment upon our organization.
Our writers consistently hound the private hours of A.S. staff for interviews and information and publish the screw-ups of inexperience along with the promising signs of change in the political machine, Monday through Friday — a fact that Mr. Garshfield would know if he were to acknowledge our growth into the online sphere.
On Thursday, Tribune Publishing, owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and other major publications, reported ad revenue falling a painful 75 percent in the first quarter compared to last year, even with increased circulation. Quality journalists flourish with quality resources, and we can think of few better investments than in a body of accountability accessible to the entire population. Sure, you can find plenty of cheaper content floating around in the free market, but we don’t plan on trading the Nexus’s in-depth interviews for the rumors of social media and individual platforms.
Despite the nationwide struggle that the journalism industry faces, we are putting out content five days a week, expanding our website, developing a Daily Nexus app and attempting to maintain salaries at their current level.
So, we can debate the hypothetical possibilities for the student, city and national government to leverage against us, we can ruminate on the possibility that Storke Tower will implode and crush us all, but the fact remains that we remain here, at least reaffirmed by the students if not granted our requested increase. We have enough faith in our fellow students to present their actions and views as objectively as possible, and we chose long ago to pursue informed publication over pure profit.
*This is an updated version of the article that appears here. The Editorial Board decided that our response to Mr. Garshfield’s piece would be bettered by the inclusion of concrete facts from the A.S. Legal code. Thus, this article was changed to include a more concrete set of facts and a clearer structure.