Board of Directors Shake-Up at UConn Student Newspaper Stirs Questions, Backlash [Updated]

The Daily Campus, the student newspaper at the University of Connecticut, will allow only current UConn students to serve as voting members on its board of directors. The decision — approved via a contentious vote at a board meeting last week — rescinds the voting power of professionals and at least one professor with longtime ties to the paper and the school.

The board’s student representatives — all current DC editors — approved the decision. Of the board’s six non-student members present at the meeting, four resigned, one voted against the proposal and another abstained.

The main impetus for the board bloodletting (ahem, restructuring) is money — specifically the funding UConn provides the Daily Campus.

As the paper itself is reporting, “Due to a Connecticut statute that states all Tier III organizations must be entirely student-run, UConn’s administration told the Daily Campus that if they were to continue with their traditional board structure, their funding would be taken away.”

Yet, there appears to have been disagreement among board members and others connected to the DC about whether the statute would truly hold sway; whether the funding-cut threats would have really been carried out; and whether both should be fought against instead of agreed to. A related worry is that the university’s demand for a student-only board is the latest step in a larger push for control over the editorially-independent paper.

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From what I gather, while the board — and especially its non-student membership — has never enforced its will or superseded student editors’ wishes, it has served as an invaluable part of the DC operation during disputes with the school and in longer-term planning.

The professionals (now previously) acting as voting board members boast years of institutional knowledge about the DC and have specific expertise in areas such as the law, business, higher ed and journalism. Is a student-only board truly capable of serving the paper’s best interests just as well or better?

Responding to this board realignment, former Daily Campus editor-in-chief Elizabeth Crowley tells me:

“There could be a number of implications, most of which time will tell. While I was on staff, it seemed like the school was trying to encroach on the newspaper’s independence. They tried to claim ownership over the building that the publication bought with our own funds decades prior. They stripped us of our parking, claiming that it was university parking and we needed to pay for it. They tried to push us to dissolve the board of directors, which we refused.

Essentially, without an outside board of directors, the student leaders walk in nearly blind. They will not have an understanding of the history and legacy of the newspaper, including previous disputes with the university. We had a lawyer on the board who provided invaluable legal advice to us, guiding us on a number of issues. We had a former business manager who had a deep understanding of finance and how to manage a business successfully. To me, it seems the university feels threatened by the board. They seem to dislike that the student leaders got advice from people outside of the university.

“Right now the implications might seem small or nonexistent. But in years to come I could see this being an issue of the university being able to take more and more control over naive student leaders. Using funds — funds that the newspaper has always had a right to — to get their way is petty.

“As a former executive I greatly value the right of editors to make decisions for the paper, whether alumni, the board or the university agree with them or not. It is an invaluable opportunity for young leaders to grow.

“However, I cannot stand behind this decision because it will impact all students from here on out. This might be the right decision in the eyes of the current editors, but I think it is unfortunate that no future team will be able to gain what many past editors have from the board.

I think this is a scary landmark in the legacy of a great, independent newspaper. I’m not sure how independent it is any more.”

1In a letter to readers, current Daily Campus editor-in-chief Katherine Tibedo defended the board restructuring as necessary — while also criticizing the non-student board members as increasingly nasty and combative.

As she writes, “[I]f we had felt the old Board structure was worth the risk and the damage fighting it would have caused, we would have fought it. We did not believe it was. From the first meeting I walked into I have been yelled at, screamed at and attacked both professionally and personally. My staff have been called dispassionate and I have sat and listened to our Board dismiss the blood, sweat and tears every student of The Daily Campus pours into each paper. I have no doubt that there was a time when our Board in its old structure was a valuable resource, but something changed and it had become the Board versus the students, and that is not right. That is not worth fighting for.

Update [11:30 a.m. EST]: A former non-student member of the Daily Campus board of directors tells me:

“Tibedo has skewered the board members saying she was attacked personally; this was not the case. The board merely held her accountable as we’ve done with every group of student leaders. Not wanting to listen to outside opinions and dissent is far different from being personally attacked.”

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