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Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Aggie demands selection of its new editor-in-chief be halted until adjustments are made

All members of the Editorial Board, applicants for EIC ask Media Board to follow its own guidelines, commit to reform selection process

Dear members of the UC Davis Media Board, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life Sheri Atkinson and Chancellor Gary May,

We are writing to let you know that all four prospective applicants for The California Aggie’s 2020–21 editor-in-chief (EIC) are refusing an interview for the position, as any selection made by Media Board would be in violation of its own bylaws. Furthermore, we ask you to immediately halt the current interview process for the selection of the next EIC of The Aggie until adjustments can be made and until discussions about reforming this inherently flawed process begin.

Many independent, autonomous student newspapers — including all other UC student newspapers — choose their own EIC with either minimal or no university staff input. The Aggie’s EIC, in contrast, is chosen by the UC Davis Media Board, an advisory body to the administration. Campus Media Boards, created in the 1970s amid a UC-wide crackdown on campus press, were initially set up by order of the UC Regents “to oversee student publications, especially to serve as watchdogs over student newspapers,” according to an archived 1971 Aggie article. It currently operates under the delegation of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs out of the Office of the Chancellor.

Discussions around changing the EIC selection process are not new — Aggie staff and leadership have discussed reforms to the process for years. This year is a pivotal moment for The Aggie, when all current members of the Editorial Board are set to graduate and leave The Aggie. Now, more than ever, student input must be at the forefront of the EIC selection process. This is why The Aggie’s current EIC and managing editor twice requested that they participate in the selection process, additionally emphasizing that it should be completely reformed moving forward. 

Both of these requests were met with resistance, as Media Board heads said allowing them into this process would violate its governing bylaws. We later learned — one day before EIC interviews were set to begin — that Media Board itself was operating in violation of its own bylaws by allowing the selection process to proceed without reaching quorum. 

Media Board effectively decided that involving the two leaders of The Aggie, each with four years of experience on staff at The Aggie, and each with existing relationships with all four EIC applicants, would have disrupted the process, as the request was not pre-approved by Media Board, which meets only once a month. Media Board decided that the selection of the next EIC — a position that is vital to The Aggie’s operations for next year — could proceed as is: without meeting quorum, placing the selection of the EIC in the hands of only two UC Davis staff members, neither with any direct involvement in journalism.

In light of these circumstances, here are our grievances:

Failure to meet quorum 

As stated in the Campus Media Board Guidelines, Media Board will “consist of seven (7) voting members, a non-voting chair, and ex officio members.” Those same guidelines also state that hiring decisions “shall require no fewer than four (4) affirmative votes from members present at all interviews for the position.” This year, there are only two voting members — one, an employee at UC Davis InnovationAccess, and the other, an employee at UC Davis Development & Alumni Relations. By failing to meet quorum and having two non-journalists vote to select the next EIC, Media Board has delegitimized and disrespected the EIC selection process. It is inconceivable that two people, neither with any direct relation to nor knowledge of the applicants, were approved to select our next EIC, when it would be impossible for them to make a truly informed decision.

Upholding the bylaws to restrict important student input 

While we acknowledge that Media Board has bylaws to adhere to, it has upheld these guidelines selectively, turning a blind eye to essential points, like quorum requirements. Additionally, EIC interviews are scheduled to continue until April 16; therefore, Media Board has again failed to uphold its bylaws by failing to select the new EIC “no later than April 15,” according to its own guidelines. 

We wonder: Why were Media Board members willing to proceed under the current circumstances — circumstances in violation of at least two points of its bylaws — yet unwilling to be flexible when The Aggie’s EIC and managing editor asked that they be included in this decision process? 

In short, Media Board has refused to include substantial input from student leaders at The Aggie in this process (the current EIC is an ex officio member of Media Board). These students would provide invaluable perspective and insight, and they have forged personal and working relationships with EIC candidates. Letters of recommendation are not a replacement for sitting in on interviews and participating in the hiring process. Members of The Aggie are the ones who truly know the newspaper, inside and out, and these individuals should make any and all staff hiring decisions.

Reforming the process

We feel that the students within a student organization, especially an independent, student-run newspaper, should be able to — and would be best equipped to — choose their next student leader. And the student staff members at other UC and university newspapers feel the same way. While they may have The Aggie’s best interests at heart, members of Media Board have not worked closely with any of the candidates, nor do they have any intimate knowledge of their work ethic, their relationships and dynamics with other staff members or their ability to take on the EIC position, which entails much additional responsibility.

While we recognize that reforming the selection process for EIC will be a continued discussion and take necessary time, we ask that quorum — a minimum four voting members — is obtained. The role of the EIC is extensive and, as such, each of the candidates deserves a legitimate interview.

Respectfully,

The Editorial Board:

Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee, Editor-in-Chief

Hannah Holzer, Managing Editor

Kenton Goldsby, Campus News Editor

Stella Tran, City News Editor

Hanadi Jordan, Opinion Editor

Claire Dodd, Features Editor

Liz Jacobson, Arts & Culture Editor

Dominic Faria, Sports Editor

Cecilia Morales, Science Editor

All four applicants for EIC:

Sabrina Habchi

Margo Rosenbaum

Anjini Venugopal

Hannan Waliullah

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