Given the halted production of The Montclarion, the student newspaper of Montclair State University, The Signal invited the newspaper’s staff to print the editorial below in this newspaper. The editorial appears with only minor edits to align it with Signal style.
Normally, we’d express our dissatisfaction in the Opinion section of The Montclarion. Unfortunately, the SGA has frozen our budget and ceased production on the printed version of our publication.
On the front page of our paper, it says that The Montclarion is “The Student Voice of Montclair State University (MSU) Since 1928.” This is a motto that is carried out through every aspect of our publication. It is our job to reflect the student experience as it stands at MSU. It’s not our job to write press releases for our university and its bureaucratic heads.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t great aspects of MSU. We’re in the middle of a historic period of growth for the university. What was once a commuter school is quickly becoming a self-contained community. But MSU is far from a utopian society. The campus’ expansion has made resources far more limited, especially in terms of parking and housing. For every new building, there’s another one that has become old and run-down. For years, the residents in Freeman Hall (myself included) had been living with inconsistent heating, forcing many to use space heaters in the dead of winter. Countless work orders were filed but no progress seemed to be made. The Montclarion broke this story in January of 2007. As of now, the heating in Freeman Hall is in working order.
It’s stories like this that makes our work at The Montclarion worthwhile. We’ve learned firsthand that the power of the press is integral in exposing what others would prefer to remain hidden, thereby forcing change.
It’s public knowledge now that the impetus behind the halted production of The Montclarion has to do with several important public meetings that were held behind closed doors. We have a unique situation here at MSU wherein the university gives the Student Government Association (SGA) over $1 million a year of student fees to spend on student organizations and on-campus programming. In its weekly Wednesday meetings, the SGA decides how these filtered public funds will be spent.
When the SGA began to illegally go into closed session during its public meetings, it prevented The Montclarion from reporting to the campus community how their student fees were being spent. We sought the aid of legal representation with the funds that had been allotted to us in the SGA operating budget for the past three years.
When the SGA once again went into closed session, Montclarion Editor-in-Chief Karl de Vries reminded the organization that in doing so, it was violating the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act and could face legal reprimand. The next day SGA executive president Ron Chicken sent a letter to The Montclarion’s legal counsel, Sal Anderton, informing him that he had been relieved of his duties as The Montclarion’s legal representation. This began a series of back and forth attacks between Chicken and The Montclarion, which culminated in the SGA freezing our account and telling RFM Printing, which publishes The Montclarion, to cease production until further notice.
Chicken explained that our budget was frozen due to the “unauthorized hiring of (our) attorney,” and “the expenditure of funds for compensation of said attorney.” However, the former SGA president and treasurer signed the purchase requisite for Anderton’s employment, thereby authorizing it. Chicken also cited our “withholding of documents related to the services provided by Mr. Anderton.” However, all correspondence between Anderton and The Montclarion is protected under attorney/client privilege laws.
Given the facts, it seems that Chicken’s decision to freeze The Montclarion’s budget has little to do with his adherence to SGA guidelines. If that were true, he would have known that in The Montclarion’s constitution it clearly states in Article XII that “neither The Student Government Association, Incorporated of Montclair State University or the current Administration of Montclair State University can make any attempts to interfere with The Montclarion’s rights as a news organization.”
By freezing The Montclarion, he is essentially preventing The Montclarion from printing any information that might cause the student body to questions his ethics, his actions, and his competence as a student leader.
By doing this, Chicken isn’t just shutting down The Montclarion’s home away from home where we spend an embarrassing amount of time. He isn’t just preventing the student body from receiving an important on-campus service that they all pay money for. He is sending a serious message to the student body that calls him their leader. He is telling them that they don’t have a right to know how he, his fellow elected executive board members and his legislature conduct business. That they don’t have a right to the information of how their student fees are being spent. That they don’t have a say in deciding their own fate as an MSU student. By shutting down The Montclarion, Chicken is proving himself to be the kind of corrupt public figure that it’s our jobs to expose.
We will not back down from this. We will continue to print on our Web site, which is provided free of charge by collegepublisher.com and therefore out of the SGA’s jurisdiction. If they kick us out of our office, we will relocate. We will fight for this at 3 p.m. on Wednesday when the SGA decides our fate. Because we aren’t just fighting for our organization and publication. We’re fighting to make sure that this case does not set a precedent which allows other school newspapers to be silenced by the whims of corrupt student leaders like Chicken. We’re fighting not just to keep the voice of the student populous at MSU from being silenced, but for college students all over.
You can follow this story on our Web site by logging onto themontclarion.org. Also, if you’d like to help us in our fight for a free press at MSU, feel free to join our Facebook group “Help Save The Montclarion.”