Va. Tech rejects recommendations to cut media organizations' funding

VIRGINIA — The Virginia Tech administration hasrejected recommendations to cut funding or ban student organization advertisingin the student newspaper resulting from the paper’s refusal to eliminateanonymous comments from its Web site.

The recommendations, made Feb. 8 by the Commission on Student Affairsthreatened the funding of the Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech (EMCVT)and the Collegiate Times. The commission was responding to thepaper’s policy that allows readers to comment anonymously about newsarticles without a username or e-mail.

The Associate Vice President of University Relations, Larry Hincker, saidthat the university is not prepared to take away media funding and renegotiatethe terms of its contract with the EMCVT. The editorial staff of theCollegiate Times will maintain control of content, Hincker said.

“This decision shows that, as a whole, the university understands theimportance of student media — not just the paper, but all of the divisionson campus,” said Sara Mitchell, editor-in-chief of the CollegiateTimes.

The commission will meet tonight, Feb. 18, to decide whether to continue topursue a dialog with the student paper about anonymous postings, said MichelleMcLeese, chairwoman of the Commission of Student Affairs. Discussions betweenthe commission and the student paper have been held for the past threesemesters.

The recommendation to revoke funding was an attempt by the commission tovoice its concerns and to get the newspaper’s attention, McLeesesaid.

“The concern is not so much about an anonymous system, as much as itis [about] a lack of accountability,” McLeese said.

When there are “breaches in law, such as libel, such as threat [or]harassment,” the commission wants a system to identify the commentator aswell as potentially preventing future postings from that person, McLeese said.

Kelly Wolff, general manager of the EMCVT, said that the commission maywant the paper to eliminate offensive commentary from the Web site, but harmfuland controversial speech is still protected under the First Amendment.

“It is not the paper’s responsibility to whitewash things for apublic relations mission. I think they are asking the paper to be a gatekeeperto protect the university’s image from that [offensive commentary] andthat is obviously not part of our mission,” Wolff said.