The Associated Students Legislative Council approved freezing the Daily Nexus’ lock-in fee funds for Winter Quarter — a move of questionable legality — at their meeting last night in response to the publication’s printing of advertisements from the currently A.S.-boycotted company, Conquest Student Housing.
Leggies passed the resolution in a vote with 13 approving, 5 opposed and 2 abstaining. However, before the vote even occurred, A.S. Interim Executive Director Marilyn Dukes said she and other university administrators are still looking into whether such a move is legal, and will be talking with David Birnbaum, UC General Counsel, later this week.
In an interview after the meeting, Daily Nexus Editor in Chief Kaitlin Pike said she does not recognize the authority of the council to freeze Nexus funding and sees the resolution as an infringement on the newspaper’s rights.
“I hope the council, the university and the Nexus can discuss this situation further and avoid a lawsuit,” Pike said. “However, I am prepared to seek legal representation in the case that rational dialogue fails.”
After quickly moving through three other pieces of business, Leggies returned their focus to the Daily Nexus, both on its funds and its editorial content. The council also discussed revamping the “A.S. It Is” column, an opinion column written by members of A.S. and published in the Daily Nexus, in order to reach out to students.
Off Campus Rep. Jeronimo Saldana authored the resolution to withhold the newspaper’s lock-in fee. The Nexus receives a $0.85 per student per quarter during the academic year, and $0.57 during summer sessions.
In the resolution, Saldana wrote that the Nexus violated A.S. Legal Code by publishing Conquest Student Housing advertisements and, according to the Legal Code, “if an outside organization uses money received from Associated Students to breach a boycott they shall be restricted from receiving any additional funding for the remainder of the quarter.”
“This is more than the Nexus; it’s about families,” Saldana said. “It’s not fair for anyone to profit from these evictions.”
In addition to freezing the Nexus’ lock-in fee funds for Winter Quarter, the resolution called for obtaining financial information about the newspaper through an audit.
Prior to the meeting, the council was provided with the Nexus’ most recent annual audit, which shows that the newspaper is $683,164 in debt, less than the $800,000 A.S. cited in the resolution. With the release of the audit report, the Leggies removed the language about gaining financial details through an independent audit.
Dukes said student government has never required an entity outside of A.S. – such as the Daily Nexus – to comply with the terms of an A.S. boycott in the past.
“We need to hold off on making that decision [to freeze funds] until we can get more information,” Dukes said. “I believe we would be in jeopardy of violating their First Amendment rights.”
Dukes said she was concerned about the issue of prior restraint, especially in the case of holding funds from newspapers to censor them.
In addition, Rep-At-Large J.P. Primeau said freezing the Nexus’ funds would be the wrong way to approach the situation, and beyond that, illegal.
“If you want to fight Conquest, attacking the free press is not the way to go,” Primeau said. “Money inside the Nexus is our jurisdiction, but to take away our money over the issue of Conquest Student Housing would be against the law.”
Primeau cited the Supreme Court case the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, which found that “a university was not required to refund student-activity fees to the extent that they were used to fund a newspaper whose editorial opinions grossly offended some students.” Primeau also brought up in discussion a recently instated California law that protects the First Amendment rights of college journalists.
“This isn’t a tough issue to talk on because it’s not about Conquest Student Housing,” Primeau said. “It’s about whether this board can limit this university’s free press.”
Meanwhile, Rep-at-Large J.P. Slauenwhite said the issue at hand was the Nexus breeching the boycott, not about free speech.
“This was not editorial, this was not opinion, this is advertising,” Slauenwhite said. “We’re not telling them to stop taking their money, we’re telling them if they take their [Conquest Student Housing] money, we’ll take our money from the Nexus. They broke the rules; they don’t get the money.”
Leggies also discussed what Saldana called the “integrity” of the Nexus. Saldana read a few opinion pieces he deemed racist, which included opinion columnist Courtney Stevens’ piece on Tuesday about higher education.
“I don’t want to censor this,” Saldana said. “But this is ridiculous. I want this addressed and said out loud.”
Leg Council Member Raymond Meza said he felt Stevens’ column, as well as others, represents the racism perpetuated by the Nexus, which he said creates a hostile environment for minorities on campus.
“This is the problem: We feel attacked by our campus newspaper,” Meza said. “You know why they [minorities] don’t come here? They go to Stanford, they’re smarter. Black students go to college, but they don’t go to UCSB because they don’t feel safe here.”
External Vice President of Local Affairs Joel Rodriguez-Flores said he is uncomfortable being on a campus where the only newspaper “consistently publishes things I consider hate speech.”
On Campus Rep. Scarlet Chan was distraught and cried while discussing the topic of racism in the Nexus.
During the meeting, Editor in Chief Kaitlin Pike said that the Nexus publishes all student letters or columns and encouraged A.S. members to criticize the newspaper in its editorial pages.
“It is your student newspaper,” Pike said. “If you want to change it, you need to be the change you want to see. We will never turn down an article from you guys.”
Near the end of the meeting, Leggies discussed having a weekly column in the Nexus.
Saldana said he felt the column was a bad idea.
“We just froze their funds,” Saldana said. “How hypocritical to freeze their funds, tell them they have no integrity, and then – thanks for the column.”
However, Off Campus Rep. Samantha Nevels said the opportunity to show A.S. in a better light should not be passed up.
“The Nexus is how people get their news,” Nevels said. “This is one of our only outlets to make A.S. look good.”
Leggies decided to continue discussion of the “A.S. It Is” column at next week’s meeting.