Both the UHR and GSS should defeat the bill pending in both houses providing continued funding to the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program. The representatives and senators of last academic year wisely decided to cut the program from the SGA budget, and this year’s members should prudently follow their predecessors’ example.
The Collegiate Readership Program has provided the New York Times, USA Today and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to approximately 700 readers each weekday since 2007. The papers are not limited to just students, but instead can be accessed by any member of the Tech community. Previous levels of distribution cost student $40,000 per year, although the current bill before SGA would halve the program to a funding level of $20,000.
Even this reduced amount is too much to spend on a service which simply does not provide enough of a benefit to justify the cost, especially after the efforts last year to adjust the budget for the financial difficulties being felt by the entire university system. All of these publications are freely available on the internet, and, considering the prevalence of notebook computers and mobile devices among the student body, few are unable to access the day’s news anywhere, anytime.
Proponents will point out that such spending is not unprecedented. SGA often spends much more money on programs that benefit fewer students. For example, SGA will consider a bill next week that would provide the Rowing Club, a group of several dozen members, with nearly $45,000. Supporters will claim that distributing these newspapers will help “break the Tech Bubble” and expose students to the goings-on of the outside world. These people would be mostly correct.
However, the fact remains that the Collegiate Readership Program does not do enough for what students will pay in. Large capital bills like the one to be discussed concerning Rowing Club are crucial for clubs to continue their activities and directly benefit the students who participate in them. Providing free print newspapers to students while the exact same content is available for free online does not provide nearly that same benefit, despite the fact that the program reaches more people. The few (as a percentage of the student body) that do pick up the paper each day will not be unduly inconvenienced by the absence of these publications around campus each day.
Claims that the program will expose students to new ideas and current events likewise do not tell the entire story. Students that do not regularly read the news will not be swayed to change their ways by seeing a copy of the New York Times or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a display each morning. If students were indeed influenced to read the paper by seeing a physical copy, then the highest areas of student traffic would see the most copies taken, such as the library or the IC. In fact, the most popular distribution location by far is the CRC, a place frequented by a large proportion of non-students.
Members of the Executive Cabinet of both the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments should be commended for working hard over the summer to attempt to find an alternative solution, but the issue is now solidly in the hands of the UHR and GSS. Both houses will discuss and vote on the bill next week.
The members of both houses must carefully consider this bill. The UHR in particular should endeavor to have a robust discussion about the pros and cons of funding this program. Although it is still early in the year, the representatives should not continue their thus-far standard procedure of listening to the sponsor of the bill, asking perhaps one question, and then voting without any further discussion. Such a practice does a disservice to their constituents, the students of Tech.
Representatives and senators should take the weekend to contact their constituencies and determine what the students want to do with this program. I am confident that these elected officials will find there is not enough support for this program and will decide to defeat the bill during their next session.