Unhappy with Collegian Leadership, ASWU Senators Resolved to Change It
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Last week, Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) senators introduced a [resolution] that would have changed the process of hiring The Collegian’s editor-in-chief to a school wide election. The resolution was drafted by former ASWU senator Zeke Druker (’24), who also came up with the idea of electing the editor-in-chief. Druker is currently not allowed to serve in ASWU or any other student leadership after being [removed] from ASWU because of a student conduct violation last year.
Druker said in an interview that they remain “a contributor to many things in ASWU” because they wrote almost all of ASWU’s current bylaws. At the time they were removed from ASWU, Druker was in the middle of rewriting and updating the outdated bylaws in cooperation with then-Chief Justice Samuel Johnston (‘21). The bylaws included sections describing ASWU “programs,” which are big student organizations that receive direct funding from ASWU, like the Outdoor Program, Willamette Events Board (WEB), and The Collegian. The bylaws needed to be updated, and also included descriptions for defunct organizations like [Wulapalooza], an annual music and arts festival once held on campus, “so the decision was made to take them out of the bylaws” until Druker and their colleagues could rewrite them and put them back in.
Druker’s removal left these organizations without specific sections of the bylaws about how they were to operate, so they were governed only by the basic rules that programs like clubs have to follow. “Nothing really fell out of the sky because WEB was technically abolished,” Druker said. “I don’t think most people noticed anything happened.” Nevertheless, Druker was concerned that without a charter to provide special protections, student organizations would be vulnerable to “being dissolved, from being defunded, from being arbitrarily canceled or having specific people targeted.” All versions of the draft charter emphasized the paramount importance of The Collegian maintaining its independence “from any interference from its publisher, the University, or any other body whatsoever except the Executive Board,” a term that here means the head editors of the paper. “I think any fair reading of the charter would come away with the view that there are a lot of protections for The Collegian’s editorial staffing and other independences,” Druker said.
An earlier draft of the charter changed the current process by which the editor-in-chief could be fired, which is through a student conduct violation, to either a ⅔ vote of the Executive Board or a recommendation of ASWU’s judicial branch, followed by an approval vote of 2/3 of the ASWU senate. “It might not surprise you to learn about my absolute lack of faith in the student conduct system,” Druker said. “I don’t think that’s a legitimate system or one that students should have to rely on.” Druker said their own experience and conversations with people close to them have led them to find that it hasn’t “been a very effective means of accountability.”
Druker told senators that they were concerned that “the situation where there are no charters was going to end very badly as soon as those organizations realized they didn’t have any rules to follow.” When asked if anything bad has actually happened, Druker said it was hard to know: “I do not have the utmost confidence in the transparency of every organization. I think realistically, [ASWU Treasurer] Michael Burke (‘23) has better things to do than ask WEB if the $250 spent on posters was actually used to pay for 23 or 25 posters.” In an email, Burke said finance “would definitely know currently if ASWU programs (or student organizations) tried to misuse funds,” and that the presence or absence of a charter “would make no difference whatsoever in knowing whether or not a program has misused funds.”
Given these concerns and the amount of time it would take to organize the election for the editor-in-chief, it became necessary to introduce the charter as a resolution if an election for the 2022-23 school year were to be possible.
Druker began discussing the idea that The Collegian should have elected leadership with members of ASWU in November last semester. Senator Forrest Derr (‘24), who helped brainstorm and edit the resolution, said it was part of “a general slate of ideas and principles we kind of want to get through in ASWU” with the goal of “improving relations with student groups” by “granting greater independence from ASWU as well as democratizing the larger student groups that serve the Willamette campus.” Derr expressed a keen interest “in student democracy as a whole", They specified that not all clubs can or should be democratized, like affinity groups. Derr said the main goals of the charter were “making it so that students have greater decision-making in The Collegian, since it’s a student newspaper, and also making it so that this charter kind of sets the precedent for a future of getting ASWU out of, like, micromanaging student organizations.” They said that while “I do feel confident in saying that people should be able to elect the editor-in-chief, I don’t feel confident in creating a structure of decentralization for an organization, like The Collegian, that I don’t have experience in.” Derr said the most important thing the writers wanted to focus on was electing the editor-in-chief.
“The elected editor-in-chief? That was my idea, a while ago,” Druker said. “It’s based on a practice that exists at Reed, at Harvard and Yale, at other schools.” Reed’s newspaper, The Quest, holds annual schoolwide [elections] to select their editor-in-chief and the other members of their editorial board. However, The Harvard Crimson and Yale Daily News [both] [elect] editors from among their staff in internal elections. “I quite admire The Quest. I think it’s a very functional paper. I would daresay that in certain areas of reporting, I find it more functional than The Collegian,” Druker said. “I find that certain aspects of their reporting on student government affairs can be more comprehensive, it can better capture the controversies of the day. I find their articles to be much more educational about how that system of student government works, and about how their student fees are spent and maintained.”
Alex Tait, a third-year student at Reed, said in an email that most of the people who win the editorship of The Quest are qualified and have previous experience at the paper, but that he thinks that “electing an editor means that the structure and organization of the paper can be very variable, plus things can be more biased because the editor can be more influenced by the whims of campus politics.” Tait also said, “There’s also the issue that someone’s on paper experience (that they can write on a candidate statement) doesn’t always correspond to competency that would be seen by other members of the newspaper.”
Druker also said they think that “The Collegian has been timid in certain situations where it should not have otherwise been timid.” Last year, The Collegian [withheld] from publication the name of an ASWU candidate, towards whom Druker made comments the university found discriminatory and that resulted in their removal from ASWU, because the student’s identity was deemed “immaterial to the news of Druker’s removal by university administrators and [their] failed appeal.”
Druker emphasized the paramount importance of The Collegian becoming “more firmly independent and not associated with direct student government control.” But, they said, because The Collegian is funded by a non-optional student fee, “student fee payers deserve to have input in where that money goes.” The current system for representing student opinion in the affairs of The Collegian is that ASWU has the right to send a hiring representative for the process of hiring the editor-in-chief, including sitting in on interviews. Druker served as ASWU’s hiring representative last year, and said they were unimpressed with the process: “I think it does not breach confidentiality for me to merely comment that I did not find The Collegian executive hiring process terribly functional.” On Feb. 3 on Instagram, after the charter resolution had been withdrawn, Druker asked proponents to attend that week’s ASWU meeting “to show your support for a Collegian that is actually independent and not controlled by an inequitable and impenetrable internal hiring process and is actually capable of taking on administration, something the current leadership has no interest in doing.” In the following story, they said “there is no reason anybody who wants an independent Collegian who has thoroughly read the resolution would oppose it unless they had some kind of personal attachment to the current Exec hiring system.”
Druker framed two options for students to have input into The Collegian: either by ASWU’s hiring representative, which they oppose: “I think that that input should not be in the form of the ASWU Senate. I think The Collegian would ultimately agree the ASWU Senate interfering in The Collegian is not a good idea,” or by electing the editor-in-chief. Passage of the resolution would have allowed other student leaders whose public actions are covered by The Collegian, including members of ASWU, to have a greater say in public debates over who should run the independent student press.
Druker said The Collegian was not included in the process of writing the new charter because “we didn’t really imagine that sitting executives would like the prospect of their positions changing to being chosen by election… I think they’re resistant to the idea that the methods of hiring selection that have worked out very well for them would be altered.” Derr said they personally didn’t really think about consulting The Collegian, and that the idea had not come up in conversation with the other senators who signed the resolution. A letter to the editor signed by Senators Inéz Nieves (’24) and Cameron Cole (’23), who both signed the resolution, [said] the writers were unable to reach out to members of The Collegian “due to conflicting schedules, academic obligations, and personal circumstances,” but that they expected there would be sufficient time to publicly debate and revise the resolution before it was enacted. Cole’s name later disappeared from the resolution. The fourth and final signer of the resolution was Senator Billie Henderson (‘24). Henderson did not respond to a request for an interview.
“We’ve talked a lot about if the public can be trusted to have this kind of input [through electing the editor-in-chief]. But I don’t have the utmost confidence that new ideas and solutions can necessarily emerge (strictly) within the internal structure of The Collegian, which is a hierarchical organization. It has bosses, it has conventions. And it has practices that are enforced like in any workplace, that come from having that employment structure.” Druker said.
Ryleigh Norgrove (‘21), an alum of The Collegian who worked in various positions including managing editor, said in an email that an election would “essentially [turn] it into a popularity contest instead of allowing the Collegian to promote from within. If people want to participate or become the EIC, they should write and create, join the community and use the tools available through the Collegian's processes to educate themselves on the complicated nature of journalistic methods and ethics.”
Derr said the charter resolution has been dropped for the moment and ASWU senators are not working on writing charters for other ASWU programs because “the feedback was kind of not what we were expecting.” Derr said they had majorly reconsidered parts of how the resolution was written: “I didn’t like how we changed the mission statement, put this and that, all those kind of, what I feel is non-essential elements to the bill that take away from the democratically elected editor-in-chief.”