Texas Student Media Board of Trustees

Editor’s Note: This year four candidates are running for three available voting seats on the Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees, which oversees The Daily Texan, the Cactus yearbook, the Texas Travesty humor publication, Texas Student Television and the KVRX 91.7 FM radio station. Three candidates are running for the two at-large seats and one student for the one open Moody College of Communication seat. Candidates were asked shortly after their certification to write two 500-word columns. The second column focuses on a topic of the candidate’s choosing relating to their campaign. Candidates who participated wrote their own headlines. Only light typographical corrections were made. Among the at-large candidates, the top two vote-getters will be seated. Jan Ross Piedad, the Moody College of Communication candidate, has written a column that is running here. She agreed to forgo print space. For more information on the candidates, please visit our candidate database here.

My first contact with the Texas Student Media Board of Trustees occurred about two and a half years ago. Susannah Jacob, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Texan at the time, had encouraged me to attend what she thought would be a “historic board meeting.”

During the meeting the TSM Board would discuss — and vote on — cutting the print media publications TSM oversaw. The drastic move came because for the first time in its one hundred twelve year history, The Daily Texan and its peer publications faced a six-figure budget deficit — a lingering effect of years of declining print advertising revenue.

So, thanks to Susannah’s encouragement, around 2:30 p.m. that Friday I trudged from my class across campus to the FAC where the board meeting was in full swing. 

As I entered and walked up to the third floor, I realized that the room to which I was headed was packed — full beyond capacity. A police officer stood at the door to keep people from entering and violating the room’s fire safety code.  

I was stunned by the turnout, to say the least. Suddenly hesitant, I decided to linger in the hallway for a moment, thinking: Should I enter? Do I even belong here? What if the officer turns me away?

Thankfully, I decided that since I had walked all the way across campus in the blazing heat to attend this meeting, I would enter that room. No officer would stop me. So I did. I mustered my courage, pretended as though I knew exactly what I was doing, and waltzed right in. I’m so glad I did. 

I opened the door to face some of the most impassioned students and alumni I had seen. These people had taken time out of their day — and for some their jobs — to defend The Daily Texan, Texas Travesty and Cactus Yearbook. They had come to save the voice of the students. They had come to keep print journalism alive. 

Thanks to their efforts, the Texan endured on that day as it has continued to do so in many board meetings since then. It’s only because of their effort and dedication — that of the hundreds of students who work at Cactus Yearbook, Texas Travesty, Texas Student TV, KVRX 91.7 FM and The Daily Texan — that the publications have endured. It’s these publications and these student interests that I will protect as a voting board member. 

A university as large, important and historic as UT needs a strong, independent student newspaper as much as it needs Student Government or Senate or college wide councils. It needs KVRX. It needs TSTV. It needs the Cactus, and it needs the Travesty. These publications in turn need representatives on the board that will protect them and the interests of the students who run them. 

In 1955, Daily Texan Editor Willie Morris wrote, “The Daily Texan is bigger than any one man … Protect it and its traditions [and] you will see your life here in much nobler focus.” He might as well have been talking about all five TSM publications — five publications whose publications and traditions I will protect on the TSM Board. 

Vote Amil Malik for TSM Board at-large on March 4 and 5.

Malik is a business honors and finance senior from Austin. She is running for an at-large seat on the Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees.

An excerpt from a story that ran in May 1957 after it was discovered that Barbara Smith Conrad was removed from her role as Dido in the campus rendition of Dido and Aeneas because of her race. The article does not immediately address the incident after the initial paragraph, instead the reporter chose to cover other events that were “overshadowed” by the announcement. (Photo courtesy of Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)

Editor’s note: This story is the fourth in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.

In March, a racially offensive cartoon commenting on the media’s coverage of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin motivated members of the University community to picket The Daily Texan and shined a spotlight on the coverage of race by the Texan in the modern era.

Journalism professor Robert Jensen said the most recent controversy at the Texan is the latest in a long line of incidents.

“These flashpoints at the Texan seem to pop up fairly frequently,” Jensen said.

The Texan has been the student newspaper of UT since 1900 and is a quasi-independent entity of the University, overseen by both the office of the vice president of Student Affairs and the Texas Student Media Board of Trustees. The editor-in-chief is elected by students and the paper is funded by revenue from advertising and student fee allocations from the Student Services Budget Committee. The policy of a University official monitoring the paper’s content was established in 1936 and was inconsistently enforced until 1971. In 2007, this policy of prior review was abolished after 36 years of use.

For the first 30 years of the Texan’s existence, it’s difficult to find an indication of a stated political stance the University held on segregation. Laden with details of campus celebrations and ceremonies, the Texan focused more on student life than state news or major issues.

The paper gradually grew to include news of a more serious tone in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The Texan openly voiced racist sentiments, including the publishing of a January 12, 1940 guest column in The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia. In the column, the editorial board argued that pending anti-lynching legislation was a ploy by Republican lawmakers to garner more African-American supporters.

“Congress cannot legislate away the threat of mob violence with this ridiculous bill,” the editorial said. “Only education and enlightenment, directed by the thinking men of the South can wipe out the evil. It is our problem as a state, and if you look at the record, you will see we are doing a pretty good job. Let the Congressmen find some less distasteful method of garnering votes.”

Over the next 10 years, the push for integration grew stronger, and by the time Ronnie Dugger became editor of the Texan in 1950, publishing pro-integration editorials reflected the changing campus climate. Dugger, now an 81 year-old journalist in Austin, recalled the state of integration in an interview.

“The position at the University was that there would be no blacks there,” Dugger said. “This was 1950-51. Blacks were not welcome. I was, of course, for integration at The Daily Texan,” Dugger said.

Dugger said his election as a progressive editor of the Texan was a result of student support for integration on a campus where the University administration was kept from taking a pro-integration stance by ties to the legislature.

“You have to remember [the legislature was] literally for segregation at least through 1957, and therefore the administration had to be concerned about integration at UT because it would affect their appropriations,” Dugger said.

The Daily Texan supported the UT administration’s pandering to racist legislators in 1957 when Barbara Conrad Smith, who came to the University the previous fall as part of the first class of accepted African-American undergraduates, was forced to resign her part in an opera production after she won the lead role opposite a white male. State Rep. Joe Chapman insisted Smith, who had spent six months rehearsing for the opera, be removed.

The Texan criticized the selection committee that awarded Smith the part.

“Even if the girl chosen had the best voice, and we do not doubt that she did, it would have seemed only the better part of discretion and wisdom not to cast her in a romantic role opposite a white male lead,” the editorial board wrote.

Smith’s removal may have set minority students back, but change was on the horizon. In the 1960s UT saw an explosion of student activism, recalled alumna Alice Embree, who enrolled at the University in the fall of 1963 and took part in civil rights on campus.

The Texan didn’t delve into the problems driving the issues or produce much coverage of minority students’ struggles on campus, Embree said.

“The long term problem was that the Texan would ignore the problem until student activists made it an issue, and then they would cover what happened and begin to open up the dialogue,” Embree said.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the population of minority students on campus grew, and the battle for ethnic studies centers and courses allowed the contentious issue of race in higher education to continue simmering on the pages of the Texan before reaching two major flashpoints in the 1990s.

In 1991, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust submitted to The Daily Texan a full-page advertisement contending the historical accuracy of the Holocaust. A unique policy of Texas Student Publications, now called Texas Student Media, required the members of the Board of Trustees’s advertising committee to publicly debate and vote on contentious ads. Once the press got wind of the possibility of the ad running, a passionate debate erupted across the state.

“At one point we had hundreds of letters coming in from synagogues in Houston, telling us not to run the ad,” said Geoff Henley, editor of the Texan in 1992.

A version of the ad eventually ran without the editorial board’s support after advertising professor John Murphy, a member of the TSP board who still works at UT, convinced the other student members of the board that the value of free speech outweighed the potential racist tone of the advertisement.

Students distributed flyers on the West Mall labeling him a racist and a barrage of other personal and physical attacks. Murphy said these allegations were not true.
Marketing administration professor Eli Cox symbolically resigned from the TSP board after the vote to run the ad was made.

“I did not think any reputable professional newspaper would have printed that ad,” Cox said.

After receiving much criticism, Henley said controversy at the paper died down. The peace did not last.

Toni Nelson Herrera was an incoming history graduate student at UT in 1997 who arrived on campus shortly after the Hopwood v. Texas ruling of the previous year that struck down the UT law school’s affirmative action policy.

In an April 18, 1997 editorial in the Texan, current law professor Lino Graglia wrote: “The only reason we have racial preferences, of course, is the fact that blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites and Asians. Racial preferences is simply an attempt to conceal or wish away this unwelcome fact ... Racial preferences are the root cause of virtually all major problems on American campuses today.”

Herrera said she and other students of color decided to organize in response to professor Graglia’s comments. A rally of 5,000 people, including an appearance by Rev. Jesse Jackson, took place, Herrera said.

“I was targeted very specifically by The Daily Texan after I spoke up at the rally, saying something to the effect that I had low test scores,” Herrera said. “My SAT scores weren’t that great. Nevertheless I double majored and graduated from undergrad in three years. The point I was trying to make was that we should be looking at a whole range of factors to get into college.”

The Texan zeroed in on Herrera and fellow graduate student Oscar de la Torre, she said. Both student activists became the target of editorials, and de la Torre was depicted in a cartoon on horseback wearing a sombrero and carrying a rifle. After organizing demonstrations against the paper, Herrera said she and de la Torre took action against the newspaper’s racist actions.

“It was a formal complaint we filed with the newspaper,” Herrera said. “Unfortunately, not much came of it.”

Editor Colby Angus Black later received a 17-1 vote of no confidence from the staff of the Texan and was reprimanded by the Texas Student Publications board for allowing the cartoon to go to print and making personal attacks on students.

The outcome of the controversy wasn’t all bad however, Herrera said.

“The other side of it was that there was a section of students that worked for the newspaper who were more progressive and wanted to understand the movement and understand the struggles of students on campus so they could reflect that in their journalism,” Herrera said.

The Texan still faces criticism for its coverage and portrayal of race. In March 2012, the Texan once again published a racially-charged cartoon, this time labeling the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin as a “poor innocent colored boy.” The editorial board later apologized and decided it would not publish artist Stephanie Eisner’s cartoons for the rest of the semester.

Jensen said there are steps the Texan can take to improve coverage of minorities.

“To change, The Daily Texan will have to commit to the project of trying to transcend its racist past and the white supremacist culture,” Jensen said. “One thing that will have to happen is that the staff has to go through a brutal process of self-reflection,” Jensen said.

Since the cartoon’s publishing, The Daily Texan has taken steps to better address the needs and experiences of minority students on campus through its current and future coverage. A workshop with professors and local journalists, meetings with students from organizations that represent students of color and a series of stories spotlighting issues of race on campus, including this story, have been first steps.

“Hopefully, moving forward the Texan will have better coverage of the entire campus community and better representation of all of our students,” current Texan editor-in-chief Viviana Aldous said.

As the Texas Student Media Board of Trustees meets this morning to discuss specific issues regarding the circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of director Gary Borders, the organization also faces ongoing repercussions of financial and staffing problems that have accumulated over the past few years.

A budget deficit, falling advertising revenue and recurrent vacancies in critical leadership roles are affecting TSM’s ability to operate. While budget deficits and falling advertising revenue are problems that plague college media nationwide, some problems may have arisen from TSM’s unique structure.

“No other collegiate media entity that I am aware of has a governing board and University reporting [requirement],” said Jennifer Hammat, assistant vice president of student affairs and a former interim director of TSM.

A board of operating trustees governs TSM, which is not independent of UT. Its entities include The Daily Texan, TSTV, KVRX 91.7 FM, The Cactus Yearbook and The Texas Travesty, a humor publication. The director of TSM reports to both the vice president of student affairs and the TSM board of trustees. The Declaration of Trust for the organization states an endowment of $5 million would allow TSM to become an independent entity, but unless such an endowment is made, TSM employees are considered employees of the University.

The involvement of the Office of Student Affairs in employment matters has become a source of conflict at TSM in recent days. Borders told the Texan that Juan Gonzalez, the outgoing vice president of student affairs, forced his Feb. 8 resignation after Borders raised the ideas of selling TSM’s television and radio licenses. Gonzalez said he followed policy involving university personnel performance with regard to Borders’ resignation.

Wanda Cash, associate director of the School of Journalism and former TSM board member, said personnel performance issues were previously handled much differently, including when she was on the board.

“If there were performance issues, the vice president of student affairs contacted me, and then in consultation with the president of the board we worked out what had arisen,” Cash said. “This time that did not happen and that’s what is very troubling. The vice president of student affairs acted alone in terminating the director.”

Board member Tim Lott, vice president of audience strategy for the Cox Media Group, said the board was unaware there was a problem with Borders’ performance.

“I literally had no idea there was any sort of problem that could potentially end in a termination,” Lott said.

Borders was the third director TSM had seen in as many years. Kathy McCarty departed TSM in 2009 after serving 15 years. Hammat served as the interim director for nearly two years and participated in one failed search for a replacement until Borders was hired in summer 2011 after a second search. The board will discuss the possibility of appointing a an interim TSM director this morning.

Meanwhile, the search has not yet begun for a replacement for Jennifer Rubin, former multimedia adviser who departed in October 2011 after six months on the job.

Board member Mark Morrison, a lecturer in the journalism school, said it’s imperative a replacement is found quickly.

“We need to establish leadership,” Morrison said.

While facing absent leadership, TSM has a March 19 budget deadline looming. The organization is already facing the effects of a budget deficit.

The 2011-2012 annual budget has a projected $175,252 deficit that draws from the organization’s reserve fund that fell to $723,665.55 in November. Advertising revenue for TSM has declined from $2,326,411 four years ago, to $1,509,839 last year.

Texas Student Television is the only TSM entity budgeted for a profit this year.

The Daily Texan, which accounts for 89 percent of TSM advertising revenue, has seen changes in the three years since it last posted profit.

Since 2009, The Daily Texan has sold its press, outsourced printing and distribution, which resulted in staff layoffs and is making plans to reduce summer print production to once weekly. A second round of layoffs among TSM professional staff followed a reorganization in 2011.

Borders’ claim that he was dismissed because of budget-cutting proposals has led Cash to question the vice president’s role.

“The issue here is: is it right for the Office of Student Affairs to continue oversight as the president’s designee of Texas Student Media?” asked Cash.

Cash said she believes revising the Declaration of Trust to make the dean of the College of Communication the University’s designee to oversee TSM, instead of the office of student affairs, would be a better arrangement than the current one.

“In the College of Communication we have an understanding of journalism,” Cash said. “We have the right sensibility of journalism — of first amendment rights, of freedom of the press and our common disdain for prior restraint and censorship. I’m not sure the office of student affairs shares that sensibility.”

Regardless of who is the university’s designee for oversight of TSM, board president and third-year law student Lindsey Powers said the University needs to remember common courtesy when communicating with the board of trustees.

“I think a lot of people have forgotten how important it is to consult a board,” Powers said.

Kevin Hegarty, vice president and chief financial officer for the University, was recently appointed by President William Powers Jr. to investigate the circumstances of Borders’ termination.

Although Hegarty said the board should be granted the courtesy of consultation before terminating employees, he said because the University is the employer of TSM’s employees, Borders was subject to termination by the University. He said the University had more say in TSM’s operations than a yearly performance review.

“The role of the University is to counsel, to coach and to do what it can to support the board of trustees,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty said he hopes University and TSM relations improve after today’s meeting.

“The intent is to be very consultative and to come to solutions that are collaborative and cooperative,” Hegarty said. “Hopefully we can move forward.”