By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The student newspaper at the University of Toledo is hoping to become independent from the university administration, in part because it fears editorial interference from President Vik Kapoor.
“The staff has a strong fear that the university wants to turn this into Vik Kapoor’s propaganda paper,” said Keith Tarjanyi, editor-in-chief of The Collegian.
Such a move would break eight decades of association between the student newspaper, founded in 1919, and the university. In the past year, the paper has been very critical of the Kapoor administration in its editorials, and Collegian editors say they fear retribution is coming.
University spokesman Joe Brennan said the administration would have to examine any proposal but said that the university is “willing to talk about it.”
He denied that the university has any intention of interfering with the newspaper because of its editorial stance or its reporting.
UT’s policy and procedures manual seems to support the students’ cause. “Whenever possible the student newspaper should be an independent corporation financially and legally separate from the University,” the manual states.
On Tuesday, The Collegian’s staff will meet to debate the issue of independence and vote on a proposal to present to the administration. Mr. Tarjanyi said no staff members have raised any objections to the plan to him.
The university sets an annual budget for The Collegian, but the paper is required to return all its revenues to the administration. This year, the newspaper will “profit” several tens of thousands of dollars, Mr. Tarjanyi said, but the money will be returned to UT.
The Collegian is expected to propose two financial deals with the university. First, the university could let the paper keep its revenues from this year, which Mr. Tarjanyi estimates will total between $190,000 and $200,000. Alternately, UT could provide the Collegian its anticipated funding for next year, about $145,000, and not ask that it be repaid.
In either case, The Collegian would then become independent from the university financially, never again asking for money. It would remain a student organization, using university space, and would still distribute the paper for free.
Mr. Tarjanyi said he believes the administration will reduce the paper’s funding in coming years unless it becomes financially independent.
A new board of directors, named by the paper’s staff, would be appointed to provide the oversight role the Central Board of Student Media currently provides.
“We want to become a better newspaper,” Mr. Tarjanyi said. “We’d get more guidance from people with expertise in newspapers and fewer administrators and people who have no business being on the board.”
The makeup of the Central Board is one of the paper’s points of contention with the university. On Thursday, Provost Henry Moon announced an entirely new slate of members for the 11-seat board. Previously, board members had served three-year terms; now, they will serve one year at a time. Six of the 11 members are faculty or staff. The remainder are students, appointed by student government and Dr. Moon.
Mr. Tarjanyi said that none of the 11 members have served on the Central Board before.
Mr. Brennan said the move is part of a university-wide restructuring of committees to make UT run more efficiently.
But Mr. Tarjanyi said he worries it is an attempt to exert control over the paper’s content. “It’s silly that the administration wants to have so much control over this newspaper,” he said. “This is a student organization, a student publication.”
Dr. Bhal J. Bhatt, a professor of management and the new chairman of the Central Board, acknowledged last night that “none of the members have served before, and that’s precisely to provide an objective overview of what’s going on and how to improve this very important student activity,”
He said the committee will work hard to make sure the newspaper maintains high professional standards and provides training to students.
He said he assumes his new post with “no preconceived notion, no instructions from anybody.”
“I would be absolutely surprised if any attempt is made to muzzle the voice of the students,” Dr. Bhatt said. “That’s not the intention of anybody, and were it so, I wouldn’t even get near the committee.”
Dr. Bhatt said he has extensive experience in fact-finding, mediation, and arbitration.
This is not the first clash between the Kapoor administration and The Collegian this year. In February, an administrator wrote a letter to Mr. Tarjanyi demanding that he quit his outside job. Mr. Tarjanyi has been employed by The Blade since Jan. 10 as a temporary, part-time news assistant, a clerical position that does not involve writing articles.
A decades-old university policy does not allow The Collegian’s editor-in-chief to hold outside employment. In exchange, the editor-in-chief is paid about $10,000 a year, which helps cover tuition, room, and board costs. But administrators could not point to a single time the policy had been enforced, while several past editors had held jobs at The Blade and elsewhere.
Mr. Tarjanyi said he considered the move an attempt to intimidate the newspaper. The main faculty union on campus passed a resolution calling it “selective enforcement” and stating its support for Mr. Tarjanyi.
Eventually, UT agreed to let him keep his outside job.
Mr. Brennan said that the administration has no intention of restraining what the newspaper publishes. “There has never been any prior restraint, never been any retribution or penalty for publishing something,” he said. “I respect the independence of the student media.”
Mr. Tarjanyi said that “we haven’t run into many problems this year” on editorial issues, but said “we’re assuming the potential is there.”
Mr. Brennan is one of the 11 new members of the board, which Mr. Tarjanyi said was a conflict of interest because, as the university spokesman, Mr. Brennan wants to put the university in the best possible light. Also on the board is Calvin Lawshe, the interim dean of students, who is also a former university spokesman.
“Since when in the real world does the government control newspapers?” Mr. Tarjanyi asked.
Mr. Brennan said he did not consider the situation a conflict, and pointed out that previous university spokesmen have sat on the board without conflict.