Today, eighteen college newspapers published editorials protesting USC Vice President Michael L. Jackson’s decision to block the re-election of the current editor-in-chief of the Daily Trojan, USC’s student newspaper.
Zach Fox, current editor-in-chief of the Daily Trojan, was elected by the newspaper’s staff to serve next semester as editor-in-chief, but USC Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson blocked the student media board from approving him for the position. Fox apparently made no friends among the USC administration when he began advocating for a major change in staffing structure that would make the editor-in-chief more of a managerial position. Fox also wanted the Daily Trojan to have more control over its own operational budget. When Jackson made his decision, he justified it by saying that Fox was not applying for the editor job and rather was looking to change the role of it, thus nullifying his application.
Perhaps Fox’s attempts to gain control of the operational budget were his downfall. Boston College’s student newspaper, The Heights, reports in an editorial that the Daily Trojan editorial board had no information about the operational budget, and that Fox had inquired where unspent funds were ultimately allocated. Fox was concerned about the unspent funds because the university absorbs them at the end of the year. One might reasonably speculate that Vice President Jackson felt that Fox was endangering a revenue source in the Student Affairs budget and had to put a stop to it.
Vice President Jackson’s heavy-handed actions are yet another incident in a long string of events that have hurt the independence of student newspaper on college campuses. From the dubious federal appeals court decision in Hosty v. Carter, which may permit universities to exercise content control over student newspapers, to recent newspaper thefts at Oregon State University, the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, Boston College, and the University of Georgia, this year has been extraordinarily rough for independent college journalists.
To thrive, student media must be free from unjust control by the university administration. This freedom must include the freedom to select its own leaders. Vice President Jackson should be ashamed of his actions and college newspapers around the country are right to protest his decision.