Student government and college paper in Pennsylvania clash over publishing budget

PENNSYLVANIA—Student government officials at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh tried to exercise prior restraint on the student newspaper to prevent reporters from publishing budgetary information.

News editor Raymond Arke attended a meeting of the Student Government Association on Aug. 27, wearing press credentials and taking notes. The Duke sends at least one reporter to all student government meetings.

At the meeting, SGA senators presented and voted on the 2017-18 SGA budget. Arke brought that information back to the newsroom, where staff discussed whether to publish the budgetary information and if so, how to go about it. He said the SGA is supposed to close the meeting when discussing and voting on specific budgetary information, but made a mistake when it forgot to remove members of the press and public.

SGA President Olivia Erikson declined to comment for this article.

Arke said the night the paper went to print, two members of the SGA Executive Board came and asked them not to publish the budget information. The board members said the information was too sensitive and could lead to retribution against the student government if people were upset by how money was allocated.

The reporters said they would publish the information, because it was true, newsworthy and lawfully obtained. The budget was presented at an open meeting, so the information was already public. The newspaper was legally within its rights to publish.

The board members then told the reporters that they had issued a letter to the University Publications Board asking them to exercise prior restraint and stop the newspaper from printing.

The University Publications Board is made up of media professors, student editors, student government representatives and individuals outside the university who monitor and fund student media. They are in charge of helping with legal and other concerns regarding media organizations on campus.

Editor-in-chief of The Duquesne Duke Leah Devorak said the University Publications Board refused to exercise prior restraint on the newspaper and the budget information was published. She said she is unaware of any retribution or pushback against the SGA as a result of the budgetary information being published and that students have been supportive about their decision to publish.

After the budget information was published, the SGA asked for a hearing with the University Publications Board. Devorak said Publications Board Director Margaret Patterson had told one newspaper staff member that no one had ever asked for a hearing with the board before.

The hearing took place last Friday. Prior to the hearing, Devorak said she didn’t know what the student government officials were hoping to get out of the hearing — she thought they just wanted to air their grievances and that no further action would come out of the meeting.

SPLC staff writer Emily Goodell can be reached by email or (202) 478-1926.

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