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Readership stirs controversy

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, February 23, 2006

The College Readership Program is just one step away from becoming a reality at Notre Dame, and the Club Coordination Council – which is facing a 3.75 percent budget cut in order to fund the program – is fighting to reclaim the money it stands to lose.

The Readership Program, which provides major newspapers to colleges around the nation, will be funded by a portion of a $15 student activity fee increase and by a reduction to the fixed allocations of the Club Coordination Council (CCC) and the Council of Representatives Collaboration Fund, student body president Dave Baron said.

But CCC president Beth O’Shaughnessy said the group’s allocation reduction is unfair to the 300-plus clubs and organizations that rely on it for funding.

“Whoever feels College Readership is an appropriate use for student activities should find a way to pay for it,” O’Shaughnessy said. “They shouldn’t ask clubs to be the ones to bear the burden … we will fight for the interest of the clubs because that’s who we’re elected to represent.”

The dispute boils down to hard numbers, with the CCC claiming it will be seriously stripped of its resources and student body president Dave Baron adamantly maintaining that the group, in fact, will have more money.

Baron argues the CCC will be allocated more than ten percent more money than it received this year, which is more than enough to cover inflation, he said.

“It’s a major loss of money that students are going to lose,” Mac Russell, the chair of the CCC’s (budget) hard line committee, said in disagreement. “Every club on campus is going to be affected by it.”

CCC attended Wednesday night’s Senate meeting to present a resolution to reinstate the fixed allocation level for clubs and organizations. The visit resulted in a heated exchange between Senate members – specifically, Baron – and O’Shaughnessy.

Baron launched into a detailed explanation of the Senate’s decision to pass the resolution cutting the percentage of budget money received by the Clubs and Organizations, emphasizing that campus clubs actually would be receiving more money next year and that the CCC was making an unreasonable request.

When interrupted by O’Shaughnessy, Baron said, “I’m still talking.”

Baron’s administration has devoted much of its energy to bringing the Readership Program to campus permanently. The best way to do that initially, Baron said, was to increase the student activity fee from $80 to $95 – an increase the Student Senate approved 22-5 in October 2005.

Pending the approval of the Financial Management Board, $10 of that fee will go toward the College Readership Program, and the remaining $5 will go toward student union groups to make up for inflation since 2002, the last time the student activity fee was increased.

Generally, the activity fee helps to fund major operations of student clubs or organizations on campus, which is why Russell does not believe it should fund a private newspaper program.

“Students need to know that their money is going off-campus,” Russell said. “It has not been advertised well enough so that students know where it’s going.”

If granted funding, the Program will provide 1,600 daily newspapers for the student body (560 copies of USA Today, 560 copies of the New York Times and 480 of the Chicago Tribune).

But Russell said that number of papers is not sufficient to serve the 8,000 undergraduates paying for it.

“One-in-four students [will have] access to a newspaper, [but] every student has access to a SUB [Student Union Board] event or to a club event or to an HPC [Hall President’s Council] event,” Russell said. “I don’t see why we’re giving money to one-in-four instead of one in one.”

Though the Program was backed and approved under Baron’s leadership, student body president-elect Lizzi Shappell will make the final appeal to the Financial Management Board for the allocation in April. She said she will work vigorously to implement an “aggressive recycling program” to ensure several students can read the same copy of a newspaper each day.

“We believe that every interested student will be able to read a paper,” Shappell said. “The academic benefits for campus outweigh the arguments against the program. Student money is not ‘being sent off-campus,’ rather it is being invested into a program that provides national and international news for our community.”

Plus, Baron said, the Board of Trustees has approved the program already.

“To renege on that now would be inappropriate and would be almost a violation of trust,” Baron said.

The College Readership Program is run by USA Today and provides access to major national newspapers at colleges throughout the nation. Student government offered a 30-day pilot of the program last spring and received a flood of positive feedback, Baron said.

“The number of e-mails we got saying ‘keep this going’ and the number of e-mails when we stopped [the pilot] saying ‘what the heck happened?’ was enormous,” Baron said. “It was probably the most response I’ve ever seen on any student government initiative we’ve done.”

Baron said he understands the CCC wants to maximize its resources but noted the Council will have the opportunity to appeal for more funds from the student union group allocation later this year.

“Any group is always going to have their hand out wanting more and more money,” Baron said. “But we need to make a budget balance … and that’s what we did with this proposal.

“The piece of the [CCC budget] pie is a [lower] percentage, but it’s a much bigger pie [because] we increased the amount of money going in [when we increased the student activity fee],” Baron said.

O’Shaughnessy and Russell said they are unconvinced student government acted in the best interests of the student body.

“Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Student government is responsive, but it should also be responsible.”

At Wednesday’s Senate meeting, Baron called the CCC’s current campaign “sort of disingenuous,” given the delayed response to the Senate’s October resolution.

“You say that you do have a problem with the fixed allocation being lowered,” Baron said. “But those [percentages] are entirely arbitrary … You’re getting more money … The money’s going towards you and I think it’s going to benefit you.”

But O’Shaughnessy defended her position and the timing of her group’s current proposal.

“It took us a long time to catch on – this was a complicated plan,” she said. “I didn’t know how to maneuver within this body [of student government] … We aren’t trying to be disingenuous. In fact, I’m trying to be blatantly obvious.”

Maddie Hanna contributed to this report.