MAINE — Freedom of the press won out over student leadersat the University of Southern Maine as the student body overwhelminglyrejected a referendum earlier this month to keep the student newspaper,The Free Press, independent.
Students voted 468-88 against dissolving the Student CommunicationsBoard, a margin of 84 percent to 16 percent, thwarting the studentsenate’s plans to gain greater control of the university’s mediaentities.
"The results make it clear to me that students understandthat student government shouldn’t have direct control of studentmedia," editor Steve Peoples said.
The Student Communications Board was established as a bufferorganization, Peoples said, so that the student senate could nottake control. It oversees The Free Press and other mediaentities’ finances. A number of university administrators, printand broadcast professionals and students serve on the board.
The debate over whether to dissolve the organization has beena long-standing one. Senators recently complained about the board’sinefficiency and unproductiveness and lack of student representation.
"We’ve had trouble with the SCB," senate chairwomanMarcy Muller said. "They meet infrequently and they haven’tbeen providing financial oversight of our media entities."
Muller said senators were particularly disappointed in advertisingrevenue losses incurred by The Free Press. The newspaperhad taken steps earlier in April to address the matter.
"It should be the SCB’s job to recognize the problem andaddress that issue, but they haven’t," Muller said. By passingthe referendum, the senate would have gained control of TheFree Press‘ finances.
"We’re really happy students understood what was at stake,"Peoples said. "It’s about freedom of the press. They didn’tget it confused with what the senate was trying to say."
Changes to the board’s composition were recently made, makingroom for more students with voting power and revising the board’s constitution, Muller said, appeasing the senateto some extent.
In a recent development, the senate filed a motion April 19to withhold paychecks to The Free Press, citing a violationof university policy during the referendum. Peoples andhis staff had put fliers on cars the day before the referendum toinform the student body of the upcoming vote.
"It basically comes down to a small senate leadershipthat really hates the paper," he said. "I had no clueit was against university policy [to distribute the fliers] butonce the police called me, I stopped," he said of the fliers.
He recalled the exchange being friendly and did not think muchof it.
"We won in a landslide," Peoples said. "Insteadof being grown-up about it, they’re resorting to childish tacticslike holding our paychecks."
The Free Press printed its last edition of the yearearlier this week.
"It’s been a long year," Peoples exclaimed, who waseditor when the paper had issues stolen on two back-to-back occasionsin the fall semester. "I’m definitely looking forward tosome down time."
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