When Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (COL ’15) signed the GUSA budget for fiscal year 2015 Wednesday, he officially ended the six-year run of the Collegiate Readership Program, after the GUSA senate’s Finance and Appropriations Committee suggested it be cut because of an impression that the program was underutilized by its intended demographic of undergraduates.
Tezel’s original budget proposal continued funding for the initiative, which had received support from all tickets during the GUSA executive campaign last month.
Collegiate Readership, which provides free copies of The Washington Post, The New York Times and USA Today to students on campus, received $14,000 in funding last year. The newspapers are located throughout campus, including in Sellinger Lounge, Red Square and Lauinger Library. The program was eliminated before, in 2009, but brought back in 2011.
Since signing the budget, GUSA executives have been trying to find a solution to reformat the program for the future.
Fin/App released the final budget that cut the program March 23, citing the impression that graduate students and professors were taking advantage of the newspapers early in the day, leaving few for undergraduates. Meredith Cheney (COL ’16), a GUSA senator on the committee, admitted that no extensive study was done on readership habits but focused on the importance of allocating GUSA’s $998,400 funding where it is most needed.
“We revisited it probably two or three times, but the general consensus was that we couldn’t spend $14,000 on an experiment that we didn’t know that was directly affecting undergraduates,” Cheney said. “We want our resources going to the right place.”
Tezel decided to approve the new budget allocations due, in part, to the long, complicated process of crafting the budget.
“There are a lot of difficult decisions for Fin/App across the board, and they’ve been working on this budget for a while,” Tezel said. “While we disagreed with cutting the program this year, we understand that it’s done in a much larger budgetary picture.”
The issue was passionately debated at the GUSA senate meeting. GUSA executive members hope to capitalize on this passion to evaluate steps going forward.
“We’re getting a working group together to investigate collaborative solutions for the short-term continuation for the program, and from there, to look at the long-term effectiveness of the program, and develop, if need be, possible alternatives going forward,” Tezel said.
GUSA’s Intellectual Life Chair Shweta Wahal (SFS ’16) emphasized that the working group, set to meet for the first time March 29, would focus on making sure any new incarnation of the readership program is more efficient.
“In my opinion, it’s going to be missed. [Our goal is] finding a way to do it more effectively, whether it is getting a GOCard swipe, or putting it in more optimal places,” Wahal said. “Maybe part of this revamped campaign is advertising those newspapers that already exist and finding a way to subsidize that cost.”
As the group goes forward, Wahal hopes to keep the value of Collegiate Readership in focus and reassure students that every effort will be made to salvage some aspects of the cut program.
“There’s something comforting about knowing those resources are out there and that the student government is committed to help provide those resources,” Wahal said.
The readership program’s price tag was non-negotiable at $14,000. While the GUSA senate did deliberate on the issue, they did not construct a method to make the program more effective in the two weeks between the release of the draft.
“I think the problem was, between the budget proposal and the deliberation, there really wasnt enough time to look into ways to make that $14,000 more efficient,” Wahal said.
Fin/App subsequently took the opportunity to allocate the money to other initiatives.
“[Center for Social Justice Advisory Board for Student Organizations] is receiving an increase of $12,000. … More money is also going to our own campus media, which I think is a priority over these other print news sources. [Student Activity Commission] is also getting new money,” Fin/App Chair Seamus Guerin (COL ’16) said. “These are the kinds of groups that we chose to prioritize over this [readership] initiative.”
Some students felt less positive about the changed allocation of money. Jacob Bennett (COL ’17) created a Facebook group, Hoyas for Readership, to increase awareness about the cuts to the program. As of publication, the group only has 13 members.
“$14,000 sounds like a lot of money to students, and it is a lot of money for an individual, but to an institution like Georgetown, $14,000 is not a substantial amount for newspapers,” Bennett said.
Guerin characterized this as a misunderstanding of how the allocations operate; the budget is based on the $156 student activities fee each student pays as part of tuition.
“[The budget total is] per multiple student-wide referenda, going back to, most recently, 2010, when the student activities fee was most recently restructured,” Guerin said. “So when you multiply $156 by 6,400 [the number of students who are full-time and not studying abroad for a year], you get the very mathematically sound number of $998,400 (the total GUSA budget); it’s not an arbitrary number in any sense.”
T. Chase Meacham (COL ’14) understood the reasoning behind the change, though he was sad to see the program lapse.
“I have worked with GUSA’s Fin/App Committee as a member of the Performing Arts Advisory Committee. Their job is very tough, and inevitably, some things have to go,” Meacham said. “I’m upset at the loss of the readership program, but grateful that it wasn’t me who had to make that choice.”
Students indicated that the loss of the free newspapers would be felt.
“Losing access to newspapers is a disservice because we as students don’t have the resources for our won subscriptions and have a shortage of credible news sources,” Estevan Cohn (SFS ’17), a regular newspaper reader, said.
Jack Murphy (COL ’17) concurred, citing the breadth of knowledge newspapers provide.
“I think we should have them, I think they’re important. I think more kids will read the news if we have newspapers there, I think it helps,” Murphy said. “I think there’s a good amount of students that read the newspaper and would like to have it, and if it’s not there, I think they know they ‘re missing out on some news that they’re not going to just find online.”