Student government freeze causes Pa. paper to miss an issue

PENNSYLVANIA — Student government officials restoredfunding to Mansfield University’s student newspaper Thursday, two weeks after afinancial freeze caused the publication to miss an issue.

The student senate voted Oct. 5 to suspendstudent activity funding for The Flashlight. The newspaper’s editor saidthe freeze resulted from a dispute over the number of local stories beingpublished, though a student government spokesman insisted the decision hadnothing to do with content.

One issue of the weekly newspaper was notpublished because of the freeze.

The newspaper’s faculty adviser, Dan Mason,said the controversy began in late September when student government officialsreceived a complaint about the relevance of an editorial written byFlashlight Editor-in-Chief Derek Witucki. The editorial described apersonal trip Witucki took with his fiance, Mason said.

Jon Fuller, vice president of publicrelations for Mansfield’s Student Government Association, suggested the paper”take a break” from publishing so it could restructure, Mason said. When Wituckideclined, he said Fuller put the matter on the student senate agenda withoutnotifying anyone at the newspaper.

“We received a number of studentcomplaints,” Fuller said. “These complaints did not have anything to do with thecontent of the newspaper, but they were actually from journalism students whowere concerned about their articles being submitted to the publication and thenbeing lost.”

However, in an Oct. 6 Facebook messageprovided by Witucki, SGA President Will Brown wrote that the paper haddisregarded a condition placed on its budget.

“During budgeting, the Flashlight’sbudget was approved with a stipulation that they had to restructure andrepresent themselves as more of a newspaper aimed towards Mansfield Universitystudents,” Brown wrote.

Student Press Law Center Executive DirectorFrank LoMonte said it is beyond dispute that student governments at publicschools such as Mansfield cannot condition funding on a publication’scontent.

“The decision about the mix of stories inthe paper is a fundamental discretionary decision that belongs to the editorsand it can’t be used as a basis for cutting or freezing the budget, period,”LoMonte said.

Witucki and Mason said they’ve only beentold about the one complaint concerning the editorial, which they believe camefrom a former newspaper staff member.

“Pretty much what happened is they (SGA)realized that there were First Amendment rights [involved] and they changedtheir story,” Witucki said. “That’s Jon’s job, I mean he’s public relations –it’s his job to protect their interests. But the fact of the matter is that whenthey froze our account, the conversation focused solely on the content and thequality of the publication. Not our organization, not the structure ofit.”

Fuller said the Flashlight had takensteps to improve the way it operates, including revising its constitution andreaching out to the school’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter– of which Fuller is also vice president. Following a meeting Thursday, heagreed to unfreeze the newspaper’s accounts.

“At this point, their funds are 100-percentreleased with our absolute blessing and our thanks for their hard work,” hesaid.

Fuller said there was miscommunicationduring the dispute, something he called a “personal failure.” He said hiscomments about the paper’s content were made as a concerned student and not as arepresentative of student government.

“Student government has never tried toregulate or, frankly, we have no real ambition to regulate the content of anewspaper,” Fuller said. “We have enough stuff on our plate.”

A Mansfield spokesman said Friday thatuniversity officials did not to feel the need to get involved with fundingdisputes between students.