(CNSNews.com) - Cornell University's Student Assembly Finance Committee recently voted to freeze funds for the school's admittedly conservative newspaper, sparking charges of ideological discrimination and censorship.
Defenders of the decision maintain that freezing The Cornell American's funds was based on charges that the publication failed to meet certain ethical criteria and had nothing to do with politics.
The Cornell American has raised eyebrows in the past, even inciting protest, with its stories on affirmative action and same-sex marriage. It has published five widely read issues and has been cited by Fox News, the Leadership Institute, FrontPage Magazine, and the Cornell Daily Sun.
Prompting the freeze in funds, the SAFC made two charges against The Cornell American. The first was that the Cornell Literary Society, the group that requested funds for the paper, had falsely claimed their current advisor to be a staff member at the university.
Second, the SAFC alleged that the Cornell Literary Society had proposed funding for a nonpartisan literary publication as opposed to a politically biased newspaper.
These charges were submitted for review by the Student Assembly Appropriation Committee as well as by the university ombudsman, but no decision has been reached as to their validity. Meanwhile, the newspaper is without school funding.
Eric Shive, editor-in-chief of The American, denied the validity of the charges and attributed them to a political agenda on the part of the SAFC.
"When we submitted the application and went to the budget hearing, we said we wanted funding for the Cornell American, which would 'raise a traditional American perspective, so as to balance debate on campus and to further conservative ideals,'" Shive told The Cornell Daily Sun on Sept. 29, in response to the charge that the paper had withheld its intentions from the SAFC.
"The SAFC commissioners who presided over The American's budget hearing, who had more information about us than anyone, supported our receiving full funding," Michael Hint, publisher of the Cornell American and treasurer of the Cornell Literary Society said in the same article.
"In fact, it was the left-wing SAFC executive committee who overruled its own commissioners and defunded us," Hint added.
"If the SAFC were concerned about the student body being deceived, why didn't its Executive Board inform The American in March 2004 when the alleged 'fraud' began rather than waiting until last week? Answer: Liberals did not control the SA and the SAFC in March 2004," Joseph J. Sabia, a Cornell alumnus told FrontPage Magazine on Sept. 27.
"They do control both organizations in September 2004," Sabia added.
Ross Blankenship, president of Cornell's chapter of Students for Academic Freedom, questions why The American, out of 369 campus organizations, was "singled out" by the SAFC.
"This goes back to the root of intellectual discourse and academic freedom. This is a conservative group that wants to have something different from the status quo," Blankenship said on Oct. 7. "[The SAFC] is fundamentally violating the right of freedom of speech."
Blankenship also addressed the issue of the Cornell Literary Society's advisor. "[The advisor] was a staff member at the time, and there was no misunderstanding. He was both a student and a staff member," he said.
Josh Bronstein, vice president of finance for the student assembly, explained that the student assembly was not interested in censoring ideas and that its main concern was that clubs adhere to the SAFC guidelines and standard of ethics.
Bronstein noted that the SAFC does in fact fund partisan clubs and newspapers, and that in fact "no group had been defunded." He did concede in The Cornell Daily Sun that during the review of the alleged violations, already granted funds were frozen for The Cornell American.
As for the claims of ideological bias, Kate Nadolny, co-chair of the SAFC said in The Sun, "The funding issue had absolutely nothing to do with the nature of their group. It simply had to do with...the two reasons that were sent to the appropriations committee."
Nadolny dismissed the charge that the SAFC executive committee had a left-wing agenda. "The people who heard the budget were executive committee members. And the same people who sat on their table at their hearing are the same people who decided to send them the S.A. Appropriations Committee," she said.
"Our group runs completely on documentation, on proof of different things that [clubs] are doing and nothing on what the nature of that is," Nadolny added. She indicated that "these issues may have" arisen because the Cornell Literary Society was unclear about the information it provided the SAFC about The Cornell American.
While investigations continue into the charges, director of the Campus Leadership Program Daniel Flynn told CNSNews.com that funding for the Cornell American will be provided by the Leadership Institute to make up for the lack of funds from the school.
"[The school] can't just deny students access to money because they subscribe to a certain set of political beliefs," Flynn said.
A spokesperson for Cornell University could not be reached for comment.
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