Hell hath no fury like an Aggie scorned.
At least, that’s what The Battalion editor-in-chief Matt Woolbright and the rest of our colleagues over at the official student paper of Texas A&M discovered last week.
The saga began on Monday, Feb. 28, when the paper ran a story titled <a href="http://www.thebatt.com/news/poor-choices-follow-candidates-1.2020395">“Poor choices follow candidates”</a> that documented how A&M junior Joshua Light was cited for underage drinking in 2010. The citation was significant because a year later Light was in the midst of an election campaign for the position of “Junior Yell Leader.” Yes, you read that correctly: A&M decides their head cheerleaders by popular election and, based on the ensuing outcry, it’s a very big deal. Light was part of the “5 for Yell” ticket, a group of five members of A&M’s “famed” Corps of Cadets that run for the five yell leader positions every year.
For those unfamiliar with Aggieland, the Corps of Cadets is the student military organization at Texas A&M most well-known for marching in step and brandishing swords at football games.
The response from the Corps was immediate. Being the bastions of free speech that they are, on Monday morning several members of the Corps were seen emptying several campus newsstands of all copies of The Battalion that featured the offending story. The theft cost The Battalion more than $5,000; even though the publication is free for students, the paper is still accountable to advertisers for the missing product.
Outrage spilled out from supporters of the Corps and of The Battalion. While Woolbright defend his paper last Thursday in an editorial titled <a href="http://www.thebatt.com/opinion/no-regrets-1.2065873">"No regrets,"</a> opponents of the paper set up a Facebook event calling itself a <a href="http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=107876545959425&ref=ts">“Petition to Remove The Battalion’s Funding from Student Fees.”</a> As of Tuesday morning 2,144 people had registered as “attending” the petition, and 2,289 indicated they were “not attending.”
Part of what makes the petition so ridiculous is just how paltry a sum The Battalion receives from student fees. For last year’s budget, the paper split $22,000 with the school’s yearbook. That amount comes out to less than 50 cents per A&M student. Yet for some, those 50 cents are an egregious and tyrannical offense that must be rectified.
Yes, student newspapers that receive funding from student fees should be accountable to their respective student bodies. However, the criticisms leveled at The Battalion are poorly constructed. In the aftermath of a single news story, the paper — which publishes thousands of stories a year — has been accused of holding an overarching bias.
Additionally, it is hard to take accusations of bias seriously given how the paper has handled the incident. While publishing a single editorial in their own defense, the editors have published several letters from readers directly attacking the paper and the editors for their policies.
College newspapers serve an important function within their communities. Like thousands of other college journalists and writers across the country, we attempt to shed light on campus issues that would otherwise be lost in the shadows. Papers such as The Battalion provide a fundamental service to their constituencies that is impossible to replicate. The Bryan/College Station Eagle, the closest local newspaper to The Battalion, is not going to be focusing its coverage on campus-specfic issues such as the concealed carry debate or the rising cost of tuition.
A college newspaper is just as much a part of campus tradition as any hand gesture or border collie. Student funding, though it may only constitute 2 percent of the paper’s budget, is significant even if it only serves as a symbolic endorsement of the community’s valuation of the freedoms of speech and expression.
The entire incident has been an embarrassment for our sister university to the east and, even for a group that we love to see embarrassed, it is hard to stomach.
— Dave Player for the editorial board