New Spectator raises SFC funding concerns

“For some years now The Amherst Spectator had upset our convictions in the pursuit of Conservative and Libertarian thought,” wrote Brad Tytel, the publication’s new editor-in-chief, on the inside cover. “However much we may have disagreed, we were probably better people for having thought about it.  Now this mission has changed.  The offices have been stormed. The Old Guard is tied up somewhere in Pond Basement.  And from this day forth, The Amherst Spectator seeks to upset your convictions for no purpose whatsoever.  Except maybe for a smile.”

The changed focus of The Spectator caught the attention of the campus community and the Student Finance Committee (SFC), who met with The Spectator’s editorial staff Monday night. According to SFC chair Ben Armour ’01, the SFC decided that the new direction of the magazine does not fall under the original mission of the magazine as a political publication with a conservative focus.

Armour suggested that the meeting was “more of a discussion rather than a disagreement,” though there were a few disagreements between parties.

The SFC allocates funds each semester to the various student activity groups on campus. The funds are drawn from the student activities fee that is a portion of tuition.

“We are going to fund only $1,000 of that [first] issue,” said Armour.  He estimated the total cost of the issue at $1,220. “We allocated that money [to The Spectator] in order to fund its specified purpose, and they used that money to fulfill a different purpose,” he said.  “They tried to maintain that the Spectator was undergoing a kind of a slow evolution � that this wasn’t so far out of bounds of what we expected,” said Armour.  “We felt that the most recent issue was a clean break.”

“No one with half a brain to call their own has considered The Spectator to be a straight-up conservative magazine for at least a year,” said Windy Booher ’02, the former editor-in-chief of The Spectator and current publisher. “I was about to call Ben Armour and tell him that The Spectator was no more, when a few people approached me about submitting some content.  The only problem?  They were Democrats and liberals, first off, and they didn’t want to write about politics at all,” she said.

“It can be argued … from our point of view, that The Amherst Spectator had been changing for a long period of time,” said Tytel. “The Amherst Spectator has always been about upsetting convictions and inciting conversation.”

Citing a lack of interest on the part of potential student writers, Booher said, “I sent out my monthly grovel for submissions and got nothing.  At that point, I decided to let them have it.  And boy did they ever.”

“It was a very difficult decision to make,” Armour added. “It was probably one of the hardest decisions of the year.”

Though the editors of the magazine disagreed with the defunding of the magazine in the future, they are not protesting that action of the SFC. “They are within their rights to revoke funding for the rest of the year,” said Tytel of the SFC.

Members of The Spectator editorial staff disagree with the decision to fund only $1,000. “It is a retroactive penalty, which is itself highly suspect, and it is being applied to students who acted in good faith,” said Ross O’Connell ’02, a senior editor for The Spectator. “We weren’t trying to embezzle, we produced a good magazine [and] we don’t think that merits a monetary penalty.”

Though The Spectator has received funding from outside supporters of the magazine to pay the $220, Tytel said that they are pressing the issue for the sake of other students.

The Spectator editorial staff met with Dean of Students Ben Lieber yesterday morning. “We were not trying to get over the heads of the SFC … we were not trying to appeal the decision about us … right now the issue that the SFC is taking on is retroactive funding,” said Tytel. “Them retroactively defunding is as much them violating their contract as us violating ours,” he added.

O’Connell added that he felt this decision was evidence of an underlying problem. “Moreover, the SFC has a long history of being insensitive to class issues,” he said. “When we left that meeting, we had made it perfectly clear that there was no money in The Spectator bank account, and that any penalties they levied would be coming out of the pockets of the editorial staff. Despite this, the SFC decided, ‘Hey! Any Amherst student could come up with this amount of money without much trouble, couldn’t they?”

Tytel said that he and the other editors plan on writing a formal letter, in addition to their meeting with Lieber, in order to combat retroactive defunding by the SFC. “We don’t want to see other groups ever put into this position,” he said. “They knew The Amherst Spectator had no money, and individual students were being fined … It was not even a penalty on an organization, it was a penalty on individual students.”

Some students found the magazine offensive and discriminatory.  “I was extremely offended by The Spectator issue,” said Beth Nichols ’01.  “While I have often disagreed with The Spectator’s views, I felt this issue went beyond previous issues in terms of offensive material … The Hillel article was particularly upsetting because it was reminiscent of anti-Semitic propaganda � For me, The Spectator’s image of Jews chasing after Amherst students and circumcising them has too many connections to anti-Semitic events and groups,” she added.

“I found the two ‘Jewish’ articles to be even less funny [than the rest of The Spectator], although not necessarily offensive,” said Adriane Sandler ’02.  “The article about Hillel members circumcising the whole campus was close to offensive, both in its characterization of Jewish students as ‘generally unassuming, curly-haired overachievers’ and in its suggestion of the blood libel, the idea that Jews used the blood of Christian children in matzah.”

But not everyone thought the magazine was offensive. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the magazine,”said Daniel Liss ’03.  “It does not take too far of a step back to realize how it is too absurd to be taken seriously enough to be found offensive. I also think it is a shame that the silly aspects, such as the cover or the Hillel article, that are so off the wall distract from the truly funny elements of the magazine.  The article about the diversity of [President Tom] Gerety, for example, was great.”

“Overall, personally, I found it amusing. The thought of Hillel going on a campus-wide circumcision spree made me laugh, and I am Jewish,” said Solomon Granor ’04. “I think that a lot of people have taken it too seriously.”

O’Connell suggested that the content of the magazine that drew it was the attention of the SFC. “I, not [the rest of The Spectator editorial staff] necessarily, think that the further change in The Spectator would have been overlooked just like previous changes in The Spectator, and in other publications, if we hadn’t managed to piss a few people off,” he said. “This amounts to a sort of selective enforcement of the rules that is also, I think, problematic.”

“The reason that we came down hard on The Spectator has nothing to do with the content of the magazine,” Armour emphasized.  “This is not to be taken as any kind of censorship. We do not want to censor anyone. That is not our role.” Tytel agreed that “the SFC was not there to make this a free speech issue.”

Armour said that there is a possibility that another issue of The Spectator in its new form as a humor magazine can receive SFC funding this semester and that he encourages the editors to submit a request. He added that he hopes that the SFC decision does not discourage them from producing the humor magazine in the future.

“We disagreed with [the decision of the SFC], but can at least understand what they’re saying-we’ve been invited to apply for re-recognition, and believe that we will be recognized. We have, after all, demonstrated that we are capable of producing a quality magazine that, like it or not, gets read,” said O’Connell.