Politics, Purse Strings and the Rebel Yell

A conflict over who has the authority to appoint the editor-in-chief of UNLV’s student newspaper ultimately could change the way the publication is funded. For 16 years, an advisory board comprised of faculty members, professional journalists and students, including a member of the student government, has chosen the editor of the Rebel Yell. But Mark Ciavola, who took office as president of UNLV’s student government on May 1, learned of language in the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (CSUN) constitution that gives CSUN authority to appoint all editors-in-chief.

UNLV’s Office of the General Counsel confirmed that CSUN does indeed have the legal right to appoint the editor, which has led to fears that Ciavola, who is also president of the UNLV College Republicans, will wield control over the Rebel Yell’s content. Ciavola, however, says he is simply addressing a constitutional clause that is being ignored.

“I know the perception is that we’re trying to take over the paper, but I can assure you that’s not the case,” Ciavola says. “What it is about, though, is that we’re all sworn to uphold our constitution, and another organization cannot simply say, ‘Well, our internal operating policy supersedes your constitution, so fix it and be done with it,’ because we can’t violate the constitution out of convenience.

“So long as we’re making progress on this issue, there’s no need for CSUN to make that appointment. But if the advisory board is not willing to work with us on a solution, we will have no choice but to appoint an editor-in-chief.”

The Rebel Yell Advisory Board appointed Maria Ágreda, a senior journalism major, as editor-in-chief for the 2012-13 academic year during its meeting on April 27, despite being aware of the constitutional issue. But the Office of the General Counsel ruled the appointment invalid and has reinstated previous editor Ian Whitaker, a senior English major who is perceived by some to be aligned with Ciavola.

The topic of appointing an editor-in-chief was on the agenda for CSUN’s June 4 meeting, but Ciavola tabled the item to allow the parties to work toward an agreement.

UNLV journalism professor and Rebel Yell Advisory Board member Mary Hausch says the prospect of CSUN ultimately choosing the editor is unacceptable.

“Maybe there shouldn’t be a Rebel Yell in the fall semester because the Rebel Yell doesn’t have an editor that we’ve named,” she says. “It’s abhorrent to me for people in government to select editors. And it will influence the coverage.”

Ciavola, meanwhile, says the Rebel Yell’s dependency on CSUN gives it little incentive to control spending—and thinks it would be best fiscally and editorially for it to cut its budgetary ties with CSUN. Another possibility, he says, is for CSUN to fund only the paper’s advertising department.

The Rebel Yell receives 8.7 percent of collected student fees from CSUN, about $111,000 this year, an agreement that has been in place since 1995. Ciavola recommends instead funding the newspaper through UNLV’s Special Fee Committee, which oversees student funding of existing and proven programs and organizations on campus.

Ciavola says that once the Rebel Yell is no longer primarily funded by CSUN he would favor amending the constitution to allow the advisory board to appoint an editor-in-chief.

“We have to arrive at a solution that passes through the Senate and the Rebel Yell Advisory Board that will create a new permanent arrangement,” he says, “And that’s what we’re working toward.”

Hausch remains skeptical, though, and says one option being considered to skirt the conflict is the creation of an alternative student newspaper, although she wouldn’t elaborate further.

“The only acceptable resolution,” she says, “is an independent student newspaper.”

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