A bid by UC Berkeley’s ailing student newspaper, The Daily Californian, to source direct financial support from the university’s student body has been felled, following an eleventh-hour decision by student government group ASUC to make student voting on the issue void.
Vishalli Loomba, president of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), issued an executive order this morning invalidating an initiative on the 2012 ASUC general election ballot that asked students to support The Daily Californian, saying it violated UC policy.
The VOICE initiative, which called for students to agree to a $2/semester fee being added to their general fees, would have boosted the Daily Cal’s coffers by $93,800. The newspaper is struggling financially as it is facing a budget deficit of $200,000.
Loomba’s order came as the second of three voting days for the election was under way. The justification for the order was a UC policy that states that the student referendum process “shall not be used to establish a new fee for the purpose of supporting a non-university organization.”
Tomer Ovadia, Editor in Chief of the Daily Cal, said the move had come as a shock. “It came out of nowhere,” he said. “We met with the ASUC President yesterday and six hours later they issued the order.”
Ovadia added that staff on the paper were demoralized. “It takes a lot of work to get a referendum on the ballot. This has derailed a year’s worth of effort that was knocked down in a matter of hours.”
The issue of The Daily Cal’s affiliation to the university was raised when the paper met with the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) several months ago while the publication was preparing the referendum. The newspaper has been independent of the university since 1971, but is considered a “student group” that can issue flyers and reserve rooms on campus. UCOP suggested it could draft a memorandum of understanding that would make clear the publication’s status. That did not materialize.
Loomba said that both campus officials and officials from the UC president’s office have said that such a memorandum could impact the Daily Cal’s independence and financial oversight.
Attempts to reach Loomba by the time of publication had been unsuccessful.
While more than 1,700 students signed a petition in favor of the fee referendum, it also had its opponents. In an editorial in the Daily Cal, Andrew David King of the Berkeley Poetry Review and Myles Moscato of CalTV said the ballot item did damage to the notion of a free and competitive publications market.
Ovadia said The Daily Cal intends to remain independent and that this was made very clear on the VOICE initiative. “Students were only going to get what they approved,” he said. “We told them we would maintain our independence. No-one cherishes our independence more than us.”
The issue will next be discussed by the student Senate which has the power to overturn the executive order and is meeting tonight.
[Full disclosure: Berkeleyside competes with the Daily Californian for online advertising.]