The College administration and the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR) recently made the decision to increase the Student Activities Tax (SAT) by $8 per student per year, totaling approximately $16,000 in increased funds each academic year. The revenue will be allocated to The Williams Record to subsidize the printing of the student newspaper. The $8 adjustment will go into effect in the fall and will be the only increase to the SAT for the year.
“The decision to increase the [SAT] for this purpose was based on a shared sense that the availability of a hard-copy edition of the Record uniquely benefits the entire student body – as well as the larger College community,” Provost Bill Lenhart said. He added that this decision is a unique one, in that this is “[not seen] in any way as a precedent-setting move toward future ear-marking of funds for the support of individual student activities.”
The increase of the SAT was approved by both the administration and the CPR after being proposed in an Oct. 13 resolution passed by College Council (CC). Professor of Political Science Cathy Johnson, who chairs the CPR, noted that the student support represented by the CC resolution played a role in the committee’s decision-making.
“[The] provost shared with the CPR the concern about the financial status of the Record and the desire to increase the SAT to providing additional funding for the paper,” Johnson said. “The CPR thought this was not a controversial issue. Students, who pay the fee, supported its increase. We also believe that a college newspaper informs the broader college community, and we realize that the newspaper faces financial difficulties similar to those plaguing newspapers nationwide.”
The CC resolution came after ongoing negotiations between the Record and CC regarding funding for the Record, which took place during Spring 2010, were unsuccessful.
“We realized that the Record needed a secure source of revenue, and that [the Record] shouldn’t get it through Council,” said Emanuel Yekutiel ’11, CC co-president. “The Record is an important and valuable campus resource. As such, we wanted to make sure we would always have a Record. This option makes the most sense because it is the most fair.”
“We [passed the resolution] after having a semester in which Council realized this was an issue that for some reason had always passed along,” added Ifiok Inyang’ 11, CC co-president. “We inherited it from the previous [CC] administration, and we felt that it was important that, moving forward, a permanent solution be made so that the problem was not something both organizations were regularly dealing with under stress.”
According to Yekutiel, the resolution was designed specifically to close the gap between what the Record’s expected costs and expected revenue. “We wanted to find a solution that would best fit the gap,” he said. “We’re not paying for the entire Record. We are making sure the Record can still produce a quality paper.”
The Record spends roughly $35,000 each year on costs essential to the production of the paper, namely printing, mailing and distribution. According to Marcello Halitzer ‘12, Record business manager, the Record hopes to earn an average of $25,000 each year.
“In recent years, we have been operating with a bare-bones budget and have still fallen into debt,” Halitzer said. “With increased funds, we will be able to do things such as replace our out-of-date printer and subscription software, increase our distribution to assure that all parts of campus have access to the newspaper, pay the business staff — who have been forgoing wages since Winter 2009 — and even print 16-page papers when the editorial and advertising content calls for it.” Halitzer added that the business staff will operate under an incentive structure of payment in order to maintain a high level of productivity.
Last spring, Record and CC conversations addressed the Record’s financial struggles and the financial climate, as well as concerns regarding oversight, editorial independence and the feasibility of CC paying a large amount of money to assist the funding of the Record.
“We needed to find a solution that was realistic,” Inyang said. “The environment of print media is different in this economy. The Record is a product consumed by the student body, and it seems fair that students contribute.”
For all involved, the hope and expectation is that the Record will remain on stable financial ground. “This decision puts the Record in a position in which they need to be thinking about the most equitable way to spend students’ money,” Yekutiel said. “I think that moving forward, the Record will need to think about that concern.”
During Winter Study, the Record will work in consultation with the College administration to put in place rules and regulations governing the use of SAT money, although management of finances will remain with the Record itself.
“The Provost’s Office does not work with individual student groups to manage their funds,” Lenhart said. “Careful management of finances is – and remains – the responsibility of the students.”
Kaitlin Butler, editor-in-chief of the Record, confirmed that the Record is taking the need for regulation of SAT funds very seriously.
“We’re not looking to relax now that this motion has been passed,” Butler said. “We’re certainly very grateful for the supplement to our budget, but we also don’t want future Record boards to lose sight of the need for a solid business plan regardless of the SAT money. That’s why we’re looking to work with the administration to figure out how to institutionalize our present frugality and drive toward fund-raising so that this mentality persists after current editors graduate.”
Butler also acknowledged that accessing SAT money before it comes under CC oversight “is an amenable solution to the editorial conflict of interest” that the Record believed would have been created by some of the plans proposed last spring.
“We’re optimistic that the folks responsible for the Record’s finances will be able to keep expenses in line with revenues, which, in addition to the SAT funds, will continue to include subscription and advertising income,” Lenhart said. “Should this prove not to be the case, of course, the finances of the paper would need to be reviewed, including this source of additional funding.”