A.S. Meddling is Nothing New But Always Worth Condemning

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Editors from the UCSD Guardian’s past weigh in on the A.S. Council resolution that is attempting to censor student journalism at UCSD.

Every so often, members of A.S. Council get upset with an article they’ve read in a campus publication and decide something must be done. In years past, A.S. Council has condemned and defunded The Koala, deprived The California Review of office space and denounced the UCSD Guardian for offenses real and imagined.

As former editors of the Guardian, we’re well-acquainted with angry council members, to say nothing of ticked-off professors, irritated administrators and seething staff. Although some of us graduated from UCSD more than two decades ago, we still have vivid memories of fielding complaints and smoothing ruffled feathers.

Some of those grievances had merit. Many did not. Former A.S. Senator Colin King’s resolution urging the administration to impose a staff censor on the Guardian is an excellent example of a grievance taken to illogical extremes.

We’re aware that on Tuesday, King requested that A.S. Council table his resolution, apparently under pressure. We also understand that King and 21 of his colleagues signed on to language claiming the paper has “negatively affected students’ well-beings (sic), and [has] begun to negatively affect the campus climate.”

Knowing that, a condemnation of this censorious student council remains in order. We’ve seen this too many times before to let it pass without comment.

King’s resolution is shot through with faulty assertions and unsupported findings. Precisely how does this student government measure the “campus climate”? Does it have a special barometer? Regular polls? A Ouija board, perhaps?

On what basis does this council presume to know the “well-beings” of more than 31,000 students? How can it be sure that students’ amorphous and subjective “right to dignity” has been trammeled upon by this newspaper? Obviously, it cannot. These are matters of opinion, and opinions are arguable.

King reasons that his demands are modest and he really has the Guardian’s best interests at heart. “If you look at our political system,” he wrote on the ASUCSD Listserv, “we have checks and balances. Similarly (sic) to how our government’s form of checks and balances comes full circle, this form of student life should too (i.e. the Guardian checks A.S. [Council], A.S. [Council] checks the administration and [the] administration checksthe Guardian).”

King’s mistakes are massive, beginning with his belief that “checks and balances” mean the government — in this case, the administration — has a check on the press. The First Amendment, California state law and decades of Supreme Court rulings say otherwise.

What’s more, his resolution laughably asserts the paper “is partially subsidized by student fees through the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.” Not true. The Guardian has been funded entirely by advertising for more than 30 years. The newspaper receives no student fees. Evidently, A.S. Council doesn’t know the difference between a subsidy and an advertising expense.

King’s resolution also declares that the Guardian has a “history of publishing inaccuracies and libel.” Inaccuracies are commonplace in every journalistic endeavor. When an error is brought to light, it’s the job of the editors to issue a prompt correction, as we did many times during our tenures and as the Guardian’s editors do as a matter of course today.

Libel is a more serious charge. In order to prove it, King and his compatriots must show — among other things — that the Guardian has maliciously published falsehoods. If council members believe they’ve been defamed, then they have every right to sue. And if it turns out libel did occur, then there should be an editorial housecleaning.

But it doesn’t follow that the newspaper requires a censor. As a matter of fact, King and A.S. Council might be interested to know that the Guardian is independently funded and free from meddlesome oversight precisely because of a decades-old libel suit. The university did not want to be on the hook for future damages and renounced responsibility.

King’s resolution ends with a contradiction: “the Associated Students of UCSD believe in freedom of speech and believe that an advisor would assist in integral tasks of journalism, thus enhancing the Guardian as a news source, and would not limit students (sic) freedom to print what they desire.”

Nonsense. Either you believe in freedom of speech or you believe in state-imposed “checks” on speech. There is no “and.” It’s one thing for the council to give the Guardian the cold shoulder or even to withdraw advertising. But anything else is simply censorship.

Fact is, the Guardian has served UCSD’s students with distinction for nearly 50 years. We never needed an advisor. On the contrary, working without training wheels was an amazing learning experience, one that has served us well in our professional careers.

We’re proud of our role in building the paper’s award-winning reputation. The newspaper has consistently offered a strong and independent voice for students. It does not exist to provide sycophantic coverage to a thin-skinned student government. We hope it remains that way for decades to come.

Ben Boychuk (’94) was Editor-in-Chief from 1992–93. David Burkhart (’90) was Opinion Editor from 1988–90. Jason Snell (’92) was Editor-in-Chief from 1991–92. Daniel Watts (’06) was Opinion Editor from 2003–04. Claire J. Vannette (’04) was Opinion Editor from 2002–03.