Montclair State newspaper to become independent nonprofit

NEW JERSEY — Montclair State University’s studentnewspaper is set to file paperwork with the New Jersey Office of the Secretaryof State that will guarantee the paper’s independence as a nonprofit501(c)(3) corporation.

The Montclarion shored up its 2008-09 funding Thursday night whenthe university’s Board of Trustees met and approved a deal that will raisethe school’s student activity fee by $3.80 to pay for thenewspaper’s operating budget as well as needed supplies.

Karen Pennington, vice president of student development and campus life atthe university, said the amount approved by the Board of Trustees would notcover The Montclarion‘s entire projected $120,000 budget. She andothers expect some of that money to come from outside sources such asadvertising revenue.

“I think it’s the best situation for the newspaper rightnow,” said Bobby Melok, The Montclarion‘s editor in chief. “This is everything we need to get up and running.”

The newspaper previously had been under the control of theuniversity’s Student Government Association. That relationship becamestrained in January when the SGA froze the newspaper’s budget. SGAPresident Ronald Chicken said the newspaper overstepped its authority when ithired a lawyer to advise the paper on its accusation that the SGA had violatedNew Jersey’s sunshine law.

After weeks of wrangling, the newspaper was able to secure funding from theSGA to publish for the rest of the year. In late February, university PresidentSusan A. Cole said if the SGA did not fund the newspaper, the university wouldfor the remainder of the year. Cole also said the university would work toformally separate the newspaper and SGA by July 1.

Although that deadline came and passed, the newspaper has put itself on astraight path toward independence from the SGA and university administration asa nonprofit corporation.

“We don’t see it as breaking ties with the university,”

said Minne Ho, spokeswoman for the university. “We’re nurturing anews organization that has dealt with age-old issues concerning the FirstAmendment and freedom of expression. We wish them well and will do our best tosupport them as an organization and voice of the students.”

There is no operating agreement in place between the newspaper and theuniversity, although Pennington said one is in the works.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and cooperating attorneyGary Nissenbaum are helping The Montclarion file the paperwork with NewJersey’s secretary of state and the Internal Revenue Service to officiallybecome a nonprofit corporation. Nissenbaum said the paper’s move was away to secure its ability to report freely on issues that concern the MontclairState community.

“I think that being in an undergraduate program is a good way to gainbook knowledge,” Nissenbaum said. “But actual participation in apaper that is involved in fundamental constitutional struggles is the bestadjunct to that education you can have.”

In anticipation of the split between the SGA and The Montclarion,student government officials have been removing some equipment from thepaper’s newsroom, equipment the SGA had loaned the newspaper while itcontrolled the newspaper’s budget.

“The SGA is taking two computers, a desk, a couch, a keyboard, apaper cutter, a stapler, and two pairs of scissors,” Melok said. “It’s really not much at all. We still have almost everything andordered all new computers and furniture.”

Pennington said the university would be advancing the newspaper the moneyto purchase equipment but stressed that The Montclarion should purchasewhat it needs, not what it may have had in the past. Pennington also said theuniversity for now will not charge the newspaper for the room it uses withinthe university’s Student Center.

Melok and Pennington agree their ultimate goal is to have a viable studentnewspaper that would require little or no university funds to operate.

“The bottom line is we want to see the newspaper operate andflourish. We don’t want to hamper it or tie it down,” Penningtonsaid. “All we’re doing is giving them the seed money becausethey’re starting from scratch. We’re giving them an opportunity toget up and running.”