VIRGINIA — James Madison may have been the author of the FirstAmendment, but an official at his namesake university does not like theidea 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 studentnewspaper twice-once as a student and now as an administrator.
Cunningham asked the university administration at a March 23 board meetingto prepare a report detailing the funding and operation of The Breezebecause of an insert the newspaper began publishing this year called Turf.Cunningham said he does not think Turf positively representsthe 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 toldthe board he was unhappy with the publication and wants the universityto stop using student fees to fund the paper. The Breeze receivesabout $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 universityfunding of The Breeze when he was president of the student governmentin the early 1980s.
Fred Hilton, director of university communications, said there has beenconflict between the student government and the newspaper before, whichis why the student government no longer determines the newspaper’s feeallocation.
It is unclear whether the funding will actually be cut, however.
“That’s a possibility [Cunningham] did raise,” Hilton said. “But whetherit would go any further than that, whether it would get to the motion stageor be approved, is another question.”
David Wendelken, an associate professor in JMU’s school of media artsand design, advised The Breeze for 25 years. He said cutting thenewspaper’s funding because of its content is illegal. And because Cunninghamhas suggested cutting only the newspaper’s funding and not that of thecampus radio station, yearbook or literary magazine, it seems clear thethreat is based on content, Wendelken said.
The university’s report will be presented to the committee of educationand student life at the June 8 board meeting. Sproesser said no one hascontacted 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,” shesaid. “I don’t think it will go through there seem to be many voices yellingout that this is a bad idea.”