Last week, the Georgetown University Student Association Finance and Appropriations Committee unilaterally killed the Collegiate Readership Program.
Collegiate Readership, funded by GUSA since 2008, distributes free copies of The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today to Hilltop newsstands each weekday, costing the student association $14,000 each year. By early afternoon each day, the program’s distribution boxes are usually empty, a testament to its popularity among members of the Georgetown community.
The benefits of such a program are self-evident. Free newspapers facilitate an informed community of students and professors, increasing investment in local, national and international affairs. Plentiful and free access also decreases the pay wall that limits many students’ access to reputable daily news content. And encouraging students to be informed in goings-on outside the Georgetown bubble is the first step to encouraging students to engage issues off the Hilltop.
During last week’s appropriations process, Fin/App eliminated the program from GUSA’s budget of nearly $1 million. The cut, which accounts for 1.7 percent of GUSA’s budget, comes in light of an increase in GUSA’s total expenditures and an increase in the student activities fee, indicating skewed priorities among GUSA’s appropriators for this year.
According to Fin/App chair Seamus Guerin (COL ’16), the cut responded to the suspicion that professors and graduate students were taking the bulk of these GUSA-purchased newspapers early in the day, leaving only a few papers for undergraduates. But this is both an unsubstantiated and reconcilable concern. If this assumption is to be used as the reasoning behind the committee’s decision, Fin/App should provide actual evidence, rather than speculation, that this is the case. Making funding decisions on such questionable assumptions is a plainly irresponsible form of student governance.
Furthermore, as GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) pointed out in his objection to the cut, Collegiate Readership was eliminated without any public discussion of substitute plans, leaving students to wonder if any alternative measures were considered. Perhaps instead of placing newspapers in Red Square and other areas frequently trafficked by professors and graduate students, GUSA could relocate Collegiate Readership stands to areas that are more exclusively travelled by the students it represents — perhaps Leo’s, the Southwest Quad, LXR or other undergraduate dorms. Other solutions could include subsidizing online subscriptions to these publications for undergraduates or activating the GOCard swipe strip that already exists on the Red Square distribution box to require proof of undergraduate status.
When a valued campus program isn’t working as well as it should, it’s GUSA’s job to fix it, not to eliminate it without debate. If it can be proven that undergraduates are not taking advantage of Collegiate Readership, that’s one thing. But until then, the students who count on Collegiate Readership for their news deserve a better explanation for its elimination, or a promise to bring it back.