NEW YORK — An attorney for the State University of New Yorkat Brockport’s student government is demanding the editor of the school’sstudent-run newspaper retract a Feb. 2 column alleging newspaper theft andresign from his position.
In the column, TheStylus Editor-in-Chief William Matthiastargeted BSG Treasurer Kyle Kirchgraber for taking or authorizing the removalof four to five bundles of newspapers left over from the fall semester.Matthias claims Kirchgraber used these leftover newspapers to build a case foradditional budget cuts to The Stylusat an appropriations committee meeting.
“Your elected Brockport Student Government officials havecommitted a crime and are threatening the free press,” Matthias wrote. “This isnot a shot at the entire organization, only those responsible.”
A letter from attorney William Smith, Jr., was delivered byBSG President Eric May on Feb. 11, Matthias said. Smith demanded the newly namededitor resign, print a retraction and take any other actions to “diminish theharm he has caused.”
Matthias said he will not resign or retract the column.
“Nothing in that letter is disputing my statement regarding Kirchgrabertaking the bundles or at least authorizing the removal of those bundles,”Matthias said. “That says something in itself.”
According to The Stylus’Feb. 16 story on the issue, Smith’s letter defended BSG’s decision to removethe newspapers.
“[A]ny and all assets owned by The Stylus are in factowned by BSG,” Smith wrote in the letter. “To the extent that an officer of BSGacquires or uses those assets for a purpose that is common to both theorganization and BSG, it is simply using its own assets.”
In an e-mail to the Student Press Law Center, May said BSGconsiders the matter closed.
“Itis not for the pleasure of the Executive Officers to ask Mr. Matthias to resign from his position, merely to reinforce the necessary responsibility that with a role such as his,” May wrote in the e-mail. “We are aware that the Stylus Charter states the specific procedure in which the Editor-in-cheif (sic) can be removed, and we trust members of the Stylus to make ethical decisions moving forward.
Before running the column, Matthias said he spoke to thenewspaper’s adviser, Marsha Ducey, and to Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate forthe Student Press Law Center, to understand the legal ramifications ofnewspaper theft.
“I talked to [Matthias] and I recommended they press chargesbecause that’s theft, but that was their call to make,” Ducey said. “He talkedto the editorial board and they decided originally not to do so.”
After hearing rumors about the newspapers’ disappearance,Matthias said he called Kirchgraber, who admitted to taking the newspapers butsaid they would be returned.
Goldstein said BSG’s defense of Kirchgraber’s conductsurprises him.
“I don’t understand why they’re so upset with thenewspaper’s reporting,” Goldstein said. “The nicest thing you could say aboutthe student government moving these papers into another area is that they wentout of their way to offend the First Amendment, deprive advertisers of thevalue of their ad revenue and deprive the student body of the newspaper it paidfor.”
According to Goldstein, there are many ways to handle adisagreement with an organization, but taking newspapers isn’t one of them.
“I don’t know why they feel so motivated to defend that. Ialso don’t think it’s a great defense to say they ultimately gave it back,”Goldstein said. “If I take your car and I give it back when I get caught, Idon’t think it’s wrong to say I took it.”
Matthias said BSG intended to use the leftover newspapers toprove a point that The Stylus was wasting money on printing toomany copies.
Ducey said there has always been tension between BSG and The Stylusbecause BSG controls the newspaper’s budget, but the friction grew worse at theend of fall when BSG denied a public records request for the studentgovernment’s budget.
SUNY-Brockport spokesman David Mihalyov said the universityisn’t backing either side, but is investigating the situation.
“I don’t think we’re backing one side or the other,”Mihalyov said. “Right now there has been a couple of FOIL requests put outthere for information that the Brockport Student Government has turned down and we’re looking into whether they have the right to turn that down.”
Matthias said he’s sympathetic to the BSG’s situation, butthat the students involved are public officials and should live up to theresponsibility associated with the position.
“I do feel for Mr. Kirchgraber,” Matthias said. “It’s not aposition that anybody would purposely put themselves in, and it’s not myintention to ruin somebody’s reputation. My intentions are to fulfill my job aseditor in chief.”
Matthias said after the papers disappeared he requested a meetingwith the president, vice president and treasurer of BSG to discuss some of therecent problems.
“The [Stylus’] studentsdidn’t want to press charges,” Ducey said. “Everything seemed fine, then therewas a meeting and they were going to finalize The Stylus’ budget.”
According to Matthias, he was not notified of theappropriations committee meeting or that they would be reviewing The Stylus’ budget. He said the lack ofnotification forced him to arrive at the meeting unprepared and lacking anybudget documentation.
“We got hit with this proposed legislation that wouldrequire us to pay $15,000 of our debt by the end of the academic year and comeup with $5,000 of that by April 15 or they would review our status as apriority service,” Matthias said.
Matthias said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll file a lawsuitagainst BSG.
“At this particular time, I’m not really willing to commenton whether or not I’m ready to file a lawsuit or pursue any legal means,” hesaid. “I will say that if BSG does not acknowledge the fact that they do notown those newspapers and cannot remove them as they wish, then I will continueto pursue this issue in a legal capacity,” Matthias said.
Kirchgraber declined to comment. Smith did not responddespite repeated attempts.