SOUTH CAROLINA — The board of publications at the University of South Carolina at Columbia reprimanded the student newspaper editor in April after he stood behind the paper’s decision to endorse candidates for student government positions.
The board, which derives its power from the university’s board of trustees, found Brock Vergakis, editor of The Gamecock, guilty of ‘harassment’ and ‘entering into student partisan politics.’
Vergakis was asked to issue a formal apology and to make the student body aware of his reprimand.
Tension between the editor and the board was sparked by complaints that student government officials filed against Vergakis because they were upset by the newspaper’s publication of candidate endorsements and an editorial slamming the student election process.
During student elections in February, The Gamecock hosted an independent debate for student government candidates, after which members of the paper’s staff voted to endorse certain candidates. Vergakis said this year was the first time The Gamecock published endorsements.
About 1,000 copies of the issue containing the endorsements were stolen from racks near the student government office and placed in the trash.
Vergakis said he found out less than a week later that a student government officer removed the papers because he believed the endorsements constituted an elections code violation. After the incident, The Gamecock ran an editorial criticizing the entire election process.
At the first board of publications meeting after the election, student government officials filed an official complaint against Vergakis because he allowed the editorial and the endorsements to run. In late April, the board held a meeting — without public notice — at which they found Vergakis guilty of ‘harassment’ and ‘entering into partisan politics.’ When the board ordered him to issue an apology, Vergakis said he wrote a satirical editorial apologizing for ‘standing up for what I believe in and not backing down.’
The events unfolded toward the end of the spring semester, so their implications are still to be fully seen.
But Vergakis said he hopes future Gamecock editors will not be chilled from running candidate endorsements or scared away from investigating the student government.
‘That’s the biggest power a reprimand has,’ he said. ‘It sends the message that what I did isn’t tolerated and that editors better not try it or they risk being disciplined, and very well fired.’