U of Florida Seems to Have Control Issues When it Comes to Student Newspapers

By July 19, 2012

This is an odd one. A controversy is brewing at the University of Florida over the administration’s demand that century-old student newspaper The Independent Florida Alligator remove 19 of its signature orange newspaper racks from campus.

Why is this happening? I have no idea, and the Alligator doesn’t seem to either. Here’s a segment of the Alligator article on this development, interspersed with my comments and questions: 

During Fall 2009, administrators proposed to UF’s Board of Trustees a rule that would prohibit distribution of all publications on campus unless approved by the UF vice president for business affairs, according to information provided by Alligator attorney Thomas Julin.

Why exactly should the UF Vice President of Business Affairs have control over the distribution of student publications? Why is the default posture to disallow publications rather than to allow them? And why is the decision of what expression to allow at a public university considered to be a business decision? 

UF didn’t contact the Alligator about the change, and the Board approved it Dec. 11, 2009. The change was published but not sent to the Alligator. 

Well, the Alligator had only been around for 103 years at that point. Maybe the administration hadn’t heard about it yet. If not, it seems like this move might have been a bit ham-handed.

Around the same time, a plan was drafted to remove privately owned news racks and to replace them with modular racks. Publishers who wished to continue distribution on campus would have to sign a licensing agreement and lease space in the university-owned black modular racks. 

Ah, so maybe it’s an aesthetic reason? The current Alligator racks are orange, after all, although if you know anyone who attended UF, you know that UF doesn’t hesitate to slap orange all over everything.

I think the crux of the matter is this: "Publishers who wished to continue distribution on campus would have to sign a licensing agreement and lease space in the university-owned black modular racks." Does it all come down to money? That seems unlikely; having worked for a student publication, I know that trying to get money out of them is like trying to get blood from a stone. Rather, it’s the licensing agreement that strikes me as the point of this exercise. If publications have to sign a licensing agreement to use newspaper racks—the only really practical way to distribute hard copies of student publications—that means they’ll have to negotiate with the university. As the Alligator says on its website, "This would jeopardize the Alligator’s independence as well as its readership." Yes, it is likely to do just that. And that’s almost certainly the point.

Schools: University of Florida