University president threatens to cut newspaper funding over magazine cover

ARIZONA — Many Arizona State University students appreciated the article in the weekly magazine installment of the State Press about extreme body piercing. But University President Michael Crow made it clear he did not by threatening to cut the student newspaper’s funding.

Although Crow has not officially withdrawn funding from the paper, he is holding meetings with interim director of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism Steve Doig and director of student media Kristin Gilger about the magazine’s future.

A story in the Phoenix New Times said Crow’s actions were influenced by Arizona State University donor Ira Fulton, who called to advise the president that Fulton thought it was inappropriate for the students to publish the profile of a bare breast with a pierced nipple on the magazine’s cover.

Gilger said a resolution can be reached. “We understand the administration’s frustrations about being called to account for a paper they can’t control,” Gilger said. “At the same time [we hope] that the administration can recognize that the students have constitutional rights to make their own editorial decisions.”

On Oct. 14, State Press Editor in Chief Cameron Eickmeyer said he was called to a meeting with the university’s Vice President for Student Affairs Juan Gonzalez; Sally Ramage, the university’s associate vice president for student affairs; Kristin Gilger; and magazine editor Megan Irwin.

At the meeting, Eickmeyer said Gonzalez expressed concern over the situation.

“I asked him directly, ‘Why are you here? Do you want me to apologize?'” Eickmeyer said.

According to Eickmeyer, Gonzalez said, “Right now we’re having a conversation about decency, but if something else comes up down the road, our next conversation could be about an exit strategy.”

The administration told Doig the State Press had “broke their deal” of complying with the publication’s ad policy.

Last spring, the State Press revised its ad policy and began accepting adult entertainment ads. The students presented the new ad policy to the administration in order to detail their process of choosing acceptable ads.

Gilger said the administration has failed to see the distinction between an ad policy and an editorial policy. “The students agreed that they would be responsible for their ads,” Gilger said. “They never agreed they would never run a provocative photo — that’s not part of their ad policy.”

Critics say Crow’s actions could be the result of his concern about the university’s image, which has had the reputation of being a party school. “[Crow is] all about cleaning up the university,” Eickmeyer said.

Gilger said she understands that. “I don’t have any problem with him worrying about the image of the university,” she said. “I just don’t think he can use the student newspaper to control that image.”

Eickmeyer said he was surprised the cover was not met with public outcry. He said the paper received multiple letters in support of the picture and the article.

On Nov. 19 the journalism department passed a resolution in support of the student publication.

The resolution states, “The faculty of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication unanimously supports the efforts of the State Press, ASU’s independent student newspaper, in exercising its First Amendment rights. The faculty commends the leadership of State Press editors and the guidance of faculty and staff who work with students in their efforts against censorship.”

Eickmeyer said he was grateful for the support. “I know there are probably some who disagree with the photo and it pushed the edge, but I’m really glad to know that they support our right to have that freedom,” he said.

Crow told the news Web site he was not planning to separate the paper from the university. “I think as an investor in the business, we want some say in how it’s run,” he said.

“If the administration wants a say in how [the paper] runs, [if it means] they want to influence or dictate content — that’s censorship and they can’t do that,” Gilger said.

The administrators and journalism department will meet again on Dec. 8.

“My feeling is if you put out a publication that never challenges anybody, that everybody can look at and say it’s OK, at some point it just becomes too bland to be readable,” Doig said.