A conservative student magazine at Wabash College lostits funding and its standing as a recognized student organization, leavingeditors wondering how they will continue to publish.
During a Nov. 12meeting, the student senate voted to rescind The Wabash Commentary’s$1,250 fall allocation of mandatory student fees money after severalsenators said they were upset with the magazine’s October/November 2002 issue.The cover story criticized professors for sending students to a “queer studiesconference,” and a back cover parody took issue with an economics professor’sstance on co-education at the all male private college.
“Whether or notwe agree with [the Commentary] is not the point,” said student bodyPresident Brian Lawlor as quoted in an article released by the magazine. “Thepoint is that the last issue was extremely ungentlemanly, and we don’t want tobe associated with that. We’re not stopping anyone frompublishing.”
Commentary editor Sean Salai said the senate’s actionvirtually excludes his magazine from campus.
“Without recognition as astudent club, the magazine can no longer apply for a share of the senate’s$500,000 annual budget,” he said in the same article. “And without an accountnumber recognized by the college business office, the Commentary cannotaccess campus facilities such as the stenograph office.”
Commentarystaff members say the senate has tried before to silence the magazine forits right-wing perspective. Since receiving official recognition in 1994, theCommentary survived senate attempts in 1995, 1998 and 2001 to revoke itsstudent fee allocation, they said.
The senate’s latest action of’de-recognizing’ the magazine is not supported in Wabash’s Student Constitution,they said. The constitution provides only that “a simple majority vote” isrequired to recognize a campus club; it provides no criteria for maintainingthat recognition.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union executive directorJohn Krull said the Commentary’s dismissal raises issues of academicfreedom. ICLU participated in a Commentary free-speech forum oncampus.
“Simply because the senate dislikes the Commentary doesnot mean it can strip the magazine of the basic rights that other campus clubsenjoy,” he said.
Salai said he hopes the senate will reconsider itsdecision.
SPLC View: While this sort of funding-based censorship wouldnot be permitted at a public college, Wabash University is private and the FirstAmendment won’t help them. There may be other avenues of legal protectionavailable. Moreover, the staff of the Commentary is doing a good job ofgetting the word out, which is often the most effective method of combatingprivate school censorship. Those wanting more information about fighting forfree speech on a private campus should be sure to look for the Winter 2002-03SPLC Report, which will include a special section on the topic. The issue shouldarrive in your mailbox by early January.