Whittier College’s ASWC Senate is set to vote on a bill that would slash funding for student media organizations by more than 40 percent. Bill authors ASWC Vice President Sofia Dueñas and Treasurer Lorena Heymans presented the proposed legislation to the Senate for a first reading on Monday, Nov. 21. If passed, the bill would allocate 20 percent of student body fees to Media Council, down from its current share of 35 percent.
The 43 percent reduction in allocations would cut the operating budget of the six media organizations under Media Council — the Quaker Campus, QCTV, KPOET, Sigma Tau Delta (the English Honors Society), Video Production Studios (VPS), and WCSN — to approximately $72,500 annually from its current budget of $125,000. Dueñas says the bill is meant to hold these media organizations accountable for their spending and to redistribute student funds to Program Board, which offers campus-wide events during Welcome Week and Homecoming Week and also puts on events such as Springfest and Luminaries.
ASWC President Amer Rashid added that the bill was also motivated by the Senate’s desire to find ways to support other campus organizations as well as governing bodies such as Diversity Council, which represents cultural clubs such as the Black Student Union and events such as Latino Graduation, BSU Graduation and Brindis/Posada Navidiena (a Latino Heritage Christmas event).
According to Rashid, the Senate is trying to pick up the slack in areas where organizations lack funding from the College. “[Organizations] have to regularly come to Senate to get funded because the institution is incapable of [funding] them,” said Rashid. “Senate is forced to find ways to shift and budget more efficiently to ensure that it is still capable of doing those things. I think that’s where budget-cut conversations start in any business.”
As of now, the ASWC Constitution Article III Section B states, “All members shall pay an ASWC fee of $120.00 per semester, 65 percent of which will go to Senate, 35 percent of which will go to Media Council.”
The updated guidelines of the bill presented in its second reading on Monday, Nov. 28 argues that the reason for the reallocation of funds is a response to the inactivity of the school’s Acropolis Yearbooks, which last printed for the 2012-2013 school year. The reason Dueñas gave for writing the bill is the Acropolis’ inactivity. She believes that Media Council no longer needs the money that used to go into the Acropolis. “We’re seeing that the amount that has been spent on new equipment has increased tremendously,” Dueñas said. “In large part, that is from all of the rollover from the Acropolis.”
The bill also calls on the Media Council to write a funding code — a guideline for best practices in funding spending requests. Dueñas and Heymans stressed that the Senate wants a better record of how and why money is disbursed or spent in the Media Council.
Treasurer Heymans is also concerned with the way Media Council spends its money. She described how other organizations request funding from Senate and undergo a large amount of scrutiny.
Senate’s proposed cuts come at a time when newsrooms across the country are struggling with how to keep citizens informed and hold powerful interests accountable in an era of budget cuts and press suppression. OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Gustavo Arellano said he is well aware of the friction between government and media, and that he feels the cuts proposed by the bill are ill-advised. “Now, more than ever, media is important to the livelihood of American democracy,” said Arellano. “If the student government goes ahead and passes this bill, they are effectively saying that the media organizations are unimportant and irrelevant. This is going to deeply affect the future of Whittier College.”
Campus media leaders have taken issue with both the bill’s process — saying that there was little communication before the proposed cuts were dropped on them — and the impact the cuts would have on their organization’s viability.
Media Council Chair Sam Esposito says the bill will disrupt the progress media organizations have been making over the years and sees it as a threat, especially to organizations such as QCTV and WCSN, who lack equipment and are understaffed.
“This bill has come to us as a surprise and Media Council has been working vigorously towards showing how valuable media is to our campus,” said Esposito. “This bill may limit the ability for our media organizations to expand in the future, and it is critical that media [continues] to be present in order to make an impact on our campus.”
Senior and VPS Executive Producer Luis Manzo added, “The fact that [bill authors] Sofia [Dueñas] and Lorena [Heymans] chose not to talk to us from the get-go when they decided to write the bill was very unprofessional … There should have been more collaboration not only with Media Council but also with our Senate Representative [Leah Boynton, who is also a QC Editor]. I felt like they were choosing not to include her until the week before they were planning to bring this to Senate [and that] was really disrespectful to Leah.”
Boynton described her concerns with the discussions that have occurred during Senate meetings and the greater conversation that the bill brings to question. “While I understand the sentiments behind this bill and its purpose of allowing different organizations to thrive, I still feel that there is a lack of collaboration on behalf of the ASWC Senate to ensure that both Media Council and Senate are considered when discussing the implications of this bill,” said Boynton. “This conversation is so much larger than just money and numbers but is deeply rooted in questions I have about the recognition of the value and importance of media on campus as well as the institution’s inability to support student run organizations.”
VPS is currently trying to keep up with an ambitious programming schedule, including a short film that will be submitted to Sundance Film Festival, as well as an on campus Spanish Film Festival beginning in March, and panel discussions with film directors such as Jarrett Conaway.
VPS teaches students how to film and edit and offers students an experience that helps them learn how to work on set. They produce promotional videos for organizations on campus and have a crew ready to work with anyone who needs help creating a video project.
These programs and services are still underway, even after Diability Services displaced VPS from its longtime space adjacent to the Center for Advising and Academic Success (CAAS).
WCSN livestreams games for the parents of student athletes who are out of state. They will also be collaborating with California State University Los Angeles Athletics Department to help them develop a stronger sports media presence on their campus.
General Director of QCTV sophomore Keanu Reus says that they are planning to expand into broader types of videos outside of news to provide the student body with more entertainment. “As of now, we’re producing Wellness Wednesday Coalition Health Tips and KPOET Cozy Concerts and are still on the search for more types of shows,” Reus.
KPOET is working on producing a political talkshow and is now having Cozy Concerts. They also host the annual K-Chella Concert.
The atmosphere during the bill’s two Senate readings felt more prosecutorial than amicable to Sigma Tau Delta president Breana Gomez. “It felt very personal and almost hostile,” said senior English major Gomez.
The bill hasn’t been supported by all Senators. Senior Sammantha Vega, the Senate’s Diversity Council representative, expressed satisfaction with the Media Council’s defense of its budget and spending. “You [media organizations] have sat here and come in a couple times now with way more information than I have seen any other organization come in and give out,” said Vega. “You have defended yourselves and continue to defend yourselves and I just want to let you guys know that we appreciate the work you do.”
Toward the end of Monday’s second reading, Senator Anders Blomso motioned to fast-track the bill — a call for a vote.
Bills are typically voted on after the third reading. The motion appeared to take the Senate by surprise and was denied.
Blomso told the Quaker Campus that he made the motion because he has his mind made up. “I feel that the information that Media Council has brought forth has proven more than ever that we as a student body are in need of this bill,” he said. “These are student body fees that are being spent with minimal oversight from the student body.”
Dueñas wants to remind students that this bill includes a stipulation that protects Media Council, should the bill cause budgeting to be too difficult for them.
“The last part of this bill says that it has to be reevaluated,” said Dueñas. “Either reaffirmed on the Senate table by a vote or completely redone, and a new bill has to be passed about the percentage in the Spring of 2018. Meaning, there’s one year of 20 percent, and then, this conversation starts up all over again.”
“We don’t want to take all this money and be like ‘Haha, this thing is done.’ No, we want to see how this works,” said Dueñas “Let’s see what happens. We’re experimenting and as we’re trying things — and you know what — if you need to be in our Senate meetings every week asking for more money because it’s really not working, we can do something about that. We can change the allocation that semester if we need to.”
Both ASWC and Media Council encourage students and faculty to attend Monday’s Senate Meeting, which will be held in Villalobos Hall at 7 p.m.