At the beginning of the spring semester, staff at The Montclarion, the student newspaper at New Jersey's Montclair State University, returned to a big surprise. The Student Government Association had frozen the newspaper's budget after a series of Montclarion articles criticized the SGA for holding closed-door meetings, a possible violation of New Jersey's open-meetings law.
The newspaper, which had hired an attorney to look into the issue of the closed-door meetings, claimed that the budget freeze was an attempt by the SGA to muzzle the paper. The SGA, however, said that the move was due to the paper hiring its own attorney rather than using the SGA's attorney.
The freezing of the SGA funds, which account for about a third of the newspaper's budget, forced the cancellation of the paper's first issue. This led to a loss of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. The SGA wants the paper to turn over documents related to the lawyer's investigation of the SGA, but the newspaper claims attorney-client privilege.
The budget freeze, which attracted national attention, has seen criticism from the New Jersey Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Arlington, Va.-based Student Press Law Center.
While the issue has reached a point of temporary reprieve with an agreement by the SGA to unfreeze the paper's budget for one month, it is clear that this is an undeniable case of censorship on the part of the SGA after the newspaper rightfully questioned the SGA's actions.
While disagreements between newspapers and the student governments that support them are understandable, the issue could have been resolved in other ways, and should have never come to the point where the SGA forced the newspaper to quit print production entirely. A student government cutting off a newspaper's funding is a disturbing occurrence that not only keeps students from receiving the news, but also undermines the ability of the student newspaper to act as a watchdog over elected student officials and administrators.
The administration at the school has said it is confident it can mediate the conflict to a resolution, but until that happens, the paper is still hampered by the limited budget the SGA has imposed on it. The SGA should immediately restore all funding to the newspaper, and allow it to reassert its role as an institution that can and should challenge authority's misguided decisions.