Florida Atlantic U. student government gets makeover following media budget cuts

FLORIDA — Just more than a year after the student government at Florida Atlantic University tried to cut student media funding, administrators have approved new measures that they hope will prevent any future acts of censorship.

The new student government constitution, approved by the university’s board of trustees on Jan. 21, pares down the previous document while adding additional checks on student power. The changes were intended to encourage a better decision-making process among student leaders, said Charles Brown, vice president of student affairs, who drafted the constitution with the student body president.

Among the new previsions is an administrator veto of student government actions, which should prevent disputes like last year’s student media funding cut, said Brown, who now holds the veto power.

In February 2006, student leaders voted to cut $63,000 from the student newspaper and television station budget — an action that many saw as retribution for content critical of the student government. Brown said he probably would have vetoed the funding cut.

Jason Parsley, editor in chief of the student newspaper, the University Press, said he welcomes the new constitution, although he is not confident that it alone will alleviate the long-standing tension between the newspaper and student government.

Instead, he says he is anticipating the creation of a media board, a measure that has been proposed but not yet approved. The board would assume financial control of the newspaper and radio and television stations from student government.

“Media will report to the media board, and any funding from the media will be skimmed off the top of student government, so that student government is not involved,” Parsley said.

Though the membership of the proposed board has not been finalized, some models include representatives from student affairs, student government and the faculty, Parsley said.

The proposal has received support from administrators as well as some in student government, and it will likely go before the university trustees for approval within the coming weeks.

In addition to last year’s funding cut, student government was accused in late 2004 of trying to shut down the student newspaper and student radio station for political reasons, and student government was without a president for more than three months last year following a bungled election.

And some campus groups have complained that the student government, which controls $6.5 million in student fees, has been unfairly restrictive with the distribution of those funds.

The new constitution decentralizes power among students at the six campuses that compose Florida Atlantic University. Previously, power was concentrated in the hands of the University Wide Council, a 12-member panel that assumed most roles in government.

“You had 12 people functioning as all three branches,” said Student Body President Austin Shaw. “There were no checks.”

The restructuring dissolved the council in favor of a two-house system. A Senate will handle matters concerning all campuses while each school will have a House of Representatives.

Some in the student government have been apprehensive about the changes, which they say give too much power to the administration, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

But Brown said he believes many of those fears to be unfounded. While emphasizing his faith in students’ ability to govern themselves, he said the new constitution will allow for better decisions.

“Many times when you have issues like the issues we’ve had it’s because of lack of communication and misinformation,” Brown said.

The move also represents the university reasserting its financial liability for student government’s actions, Brown said.

“I think students have been operating from under this premise that they were completely autonomous from the oversight of the university. That’s not true,” he said. “We are ultimately responsible to the Board of Trustees if something happens in student government where funds are misappropriated.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer

  • Florida Atlantic president sends letter to student government following action against radio station News Flash, 10/12/2006
  • Student government at Florida university cuts $63,000 from student media budgets News Flash, 2/9/2006
  • Florida student paper struggles for autonomy from student government Report, Spring 2005
  • Fla. student newspaper avoids newsroom lockout News Flash, 12/20/2004
  • Fla. student government backs off threats against student newspaper adviser News Flash, 12/8/2004