TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Administrators at Montclair State University moved Wednesday to separate the school’s student newspaper, The Montclarion, from its student government association (SGA) amid criticism that a funding dispute was muzzling freedom of the press.
In a statement read to SGA legislators, Montclair State University President Susan Cole questioned whether a student newspaper can effectively function when the student government controls its funding.
“The Montclarion has come to the conclusion that its relationship to the SGA poses an unacceptable obstacle to a free press. I agree with the underlying principle that government and a free press must remain separate,” Cole said.
Cole told the student government legislators that the public university would make sure the paper had money to print, whether or not the SGA approved funding. She said she would work with both the paper and the SGA to have them separated by July 1.
The student government froze funding for the student publication in January, but temporarily restored it to allow publication while the dispute was mediated. Negotiations broke down Tuesday.
Montclarion editors said they were victims of retaliation from the student government over stories critical of closed meetings. But student leaders said the paper had no authority to hire a lawyer to help them gain access to the meetings.
The New Jersey Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Arlington, Va.-based Student Press Law Center criticized the budget freeze, saying it is highly unusual for a student government to shut down a newspaper for its activities.
Contacted after her speech, Cole said she felt it was time to end the funding dispute, and that she would set up protections, including an independent funding source, to make sure The Montclarion operates as independently as possible from the university.
“There’s as much of a conflict with the administration funding the newspaper as with the student government funding the newspaper,” Cole said.
SGA President Ron Chicken didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
The SGA legislature ended up voting to provide money to the newspaper for the rest of the semester, according to Montclarion news editor Shayna Jacobs.
Jacobs said editors were ecstatic that they would no longer have to be dependent on the student government.
“We now know that no matter what we publish,” Jacobs said, “no matter what legal issues we press, we can still function as a newspaper.”