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December 20, 2014

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UNLV student government group reasserts authority to appoint Rebel Yell’s top editor

Journalism professor says plan places student journalists in ‘intolerable situation’

Two UNLV organizations say they have the sole authority to appoint the top editor of the school’s student newspaper, leading to a conflict that some say threatens the newspaper’s independence and future.

For the past 16 years, an advisory board made up of professors, working journalists and student representatives, including a member of the student government, has chosen the editor-in-chief of the Rebel Yell.

But Mark Ciavola, president of the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the school’s student government, says the power to choose the Rebel Yell’s editor belongs with his organization as laid out in its constitution, and the student government intends to exercise that power by appointing a new editor at its June 4 meeting.

“We should be able, in accordance with our constitution ... to appoint the person who runs the paper,” Ciavola said.

The idea doesn’t sit well with the Rebel Yell’s advisers and many of its current and former student journalists.

“It’s a peril for any news entity to derive its authority from a government entity,” said journalism professor and Rebel Yell Advisory Board member Mary Hausch. “It’s an intolerable situation for student journalists to be placed in. ... I cannot encourage my students to work on a newspaper where the editor is chosen by the student government.”

Hannah Birch, a recent UNLV graduate and former Rebel Yell staffer, said having the student government choose the editor goes against everything she learned in classes at UNLV.

“(The Rebel Yell) gives students the training they’re going to need to do journalism when they graduate. ... The emphasis has always been reporting independently,” said Birch, who is interning with the Seattle Times this summer. “To go to a student newspaper and not have those standards upheld is really concerning.”

For the first 40 years of its existence, UNLV’s Rebel Yell operated as a part of the student government. In 1995, the paper was made independent and the advisory board was created to oversee the Rebel Yell’s operations, Hausch said, even though the paper continued to receive about half of its funding from student fees.

When the advisory board was created, new policies gave it the authority to appoint the paper’s editor-in-chief, but similar wording was never removed from the student government constitution.

Revisions to state Board of Regents’ policies in 2009 did away with the section concerning the rights and authority of the Rebel Yell’s advisory board. Neither the board nor the student government were informed of the changes, and the section delegating power to the advisory board was never replaced, in what some are calling an “oversight,” Hausch said.

UNLV’s Office of the General Counsel has investigated the matter and determined that until policy changes are made, the student government has the sole authority to choose the Rebel Yell’s editor-in-chief.

Ciavola said the student government has a responsibility to make sure that student fees are spent responsibly and that his organization has no intentions of influencing the Rebel Yell’s editorial content. Every year, the Rebel Yell receives 8.7 percent of the collected student fees, which this year was about $111,000.

“The idea that we’re supposed to fund half the budget and they don’t want us appointing the editor-in-chief because of independence is laughable,” he said.

Ciavola, 37, was elected president of the student government in April. The political science junior is also active in politics, chairing the Nevada College Republicans and working on Rep. Joe Heck’s re-election campaign.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Legal Center, said although many college newspapers rely in part on student fees to fund their operation, he couldn’t think of any instances where the student government chooses the paper’s management.

“It’s one thing to give student government a voice; it’s another thing to give them controlling influence. It’s dangerous,” he said.

LoMonte said student government and how student fees are spent is at the core of what a college newspaper should cover, and its ability to do so independently would be undermined if the student government can hire or fire editors at will.

“It’s impossible to divorce editorial judgment from the selection of an editor,” he said. “No professional news organization chooses its management that way.”

Traditionally, LoMonte said, editors of a college newspaper are chosen by an advisory board or internally by departing editors and staff.

Steve Sebelius, a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist and Rebel Yell Advisory Board member for 14 years, said until the Board of Regents added back in language giving the board authority to choose the editor, that power would lie with the student government.

An amendment to the student government’s constitution would also be needed to give full authority to the advisory board.

“We’re certainly open to putting on the ballot a constitutional revision that would remove our authority,” Ciavola said, “but we aren’t going to do that so long as they keep taking half their budget from our funds.”

Las Vegas Sun reporter Paul Takahashi serves as a member of the Rebel Yell’s advisory board, and reporter Rick Velotta serves as the paper’s paid adviser.

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  1. I agree 110% with Ciavola's point....if they fund 1/2 of the paper, they should be able to have a say in how the funds are being spent. If the Rebel Yell wants to be "Independent", then find funding from other "Independent" sources....or generate revenue by advertising or donations. When I attended UNLV, CSUN appointed the Editor, it was no big deal.....why is it a big deal now?

  2. Anthony - by that logic, Clark County should have a heckuva say in the management of the RJ, because of the extensive legal advertising taxpayers pay for.

    I just can't have a ton of faith that college-aged politicians can make a responsible decision in selecting an editor, particularly in light of President Ciavola's reckless attacks against one of the university's best political science professors.

  3. Ciavola's completely out of touch. Government-controlled newspapers are communist, nazi and fascist by nature. As a former editor in chief at the Rebel Yell, I am intimately familiar with how both the student newspaper and student government are run. CSUN is and always will be a cesspool of corruption and pettiness. Remember student government in high school? How everything was a popularity contest? Who do you think comprises most of the student senate? There will be no good end to this story if CSUN appoints their editor.

    Having this 37-year-old, hard charging republican at the helm of a college organization is an awful idea. This guy should get a life and quit trying to play big fish in a small pond. What a loser.

  4. For 40 years the student government appointed the editor and yet this article fails to cite any instances where the Rebel Yell lost its independence. What exactly is the problem? The legal opinion seems to be that the advisory board currently does not have authority to appoint the editor and student government does. So be it.

  5. Who sounds like a communist now? This is a 37 year old wanna be politician flexing his muscle.

  6. And how many of you are students at UNLV? Why dont you let us students handle buisness on campus and keep your personal political opinions to yourself. Its about time someone comes on and regulates campus funds and how our student fees are spent. If not for Ciavola and a few other Senators we would have forked out around 100k of our student fees to some electric Daisy-esque concert at UNLV for students and we still would have had to pay admission to the event. Its a student newspaper, if they dont like it, they can fund it themselves.

  7. The idea of CSUN selecting an editor-in-chief is terrible. For as long as I can remember, CSUN has been at odds with The Rebel Yell from time to time. So what will CSUN's solution to this problem be? Perhaps hiring a political science major to serve as EiC? Or maybe an art student? Surely, it will not be a journalism student who actually knows how to dig for a story.

    The university is there to serve as an educational institution. CSUN representatives are learning how to be real-life politicians and RY staffers are preparing themselves for life as professional journalists. With students coming and going every few years, I'm interested to see how CSUN thinks the RY can be funded entirely without student funds.

    Student funds are there to support things such as The Rebel Yell. As with any paper, the RY is there to keep the UNLV community informed through investigative reporting. How fast will any story that positions CSUN in a negative light be extinguished if CSUN has the ability to select the EiC?

    UNLV students, staff and faculty should demand the RYAB have the opportunity to select an EiC they deem most qualified -- not someone CSUN thinks is a safe bet.

    And finally, government-run journalism is the stuff of third-world countries, not first world. Allowing CSUN reps to control their "community's" journalism sets a dangerous precedent. I shudder to think how they, IF they are ever voted into office in the real world, will serve.

  8. No one is saying that if CSUN selects the EiC its going to be someone that is only going to report what CSUN wants reported. To be honest their isnt much journalism actually going into some of the articles that are written.

  9. The only thing laughable is Mark Ciavola. "They get half our budget so we get to control them"? Really? Shut up Mark and try to actually make yourself useful for once.

    The Board of Regents should go into emergency session to rectify this situation before UNLV becomes Fox News.

  10. Look at this from a bigger picture standpoint. Public Television and Radio often receive a fair portion of their operating budget from the federal government. Imagine the outcry that would occur if the federal government suddenly demanded they appoint the management of every public station. Public stations would suddenly reflect the winds of the controlling party and public stations would no longer be of any higher value than state-run media in dictatorships and communist countries. Thankfully, our country is built on freedom of speech without influence from the government, even with items the government chooses to fund.

  11. This whole "power grab" is just a bluff by Ciavola, he's playing Russian Roulette and will probably win because none of the parties with power over the situation will put themselves in the line of fire.

    i) The UNLV president could appoint someone but he has no spine.

    ii) The board of regents could convene an emergency vote on the issue, but they won't as they are unpaid elected officials with nothing to gain from it in an election year.

    iii) The independent appointment board "could" just appoint someone. However, they gain no benefit from doing so.

    iiii) The RebelYell could call Ciavola's bluff and convene a meeting in which they democratically appoint a editor-in-chief with the guidance of their adviser. (Truly independent entities do this all the time.)

    Any of these would force Ciavola to either sign off on the money with his tail between his legs OR withhold the money and look like the spoiled brat tyrant he is.
    So, the REAL question is:

    Does the RebelYell's staff and adviser have the courage to do what's right or are they as spineless as the UNLV President?

    Sooner or later Ciavola needs to come to terms with the sad fact that he is playing with student money raised from ALL students, not just the right wing nut jobs, and as such it's his & the CSUN senate's responsibility to spend it in the way that best serves ALL students.

    Alternately, each CSUN senator has the right to motion to pass a vote on the money allocation and demand that a vote be taken. If they secure a 2/3 vote his veto is meaningless. In doing so they directly force Ciavola to manage the senate instead of trying to be it's totalitarian tyrant. However, Ciavola and Jay Yoon have been strategically placing UNLV-CollegeRepublican club members on the senate so this alternate scenario is almost impossible.

  12. Student Newspapers are FOR the Student Body and the Student Government should only see to it that the Editor and Staff are very independent, diverse and representative of the issues affecting the Student Body - with, of course, the professional expertise of experienced professional journalist and Journalism Faculty in an ADVISORY capacity ONLY!

    The Student Journalists MUST BE INDEPENDENT and FREE TO WRITE on whatever issues, subjects they desire - and the Editor can NOT be a TYRANT!

    As for funding, of course, the Student Fees should support the Student Paper for the Student Body - and the Student Government should see this as the only appropriate way to finance The Rebel Yell - and stay out of the business of interfering - PERIOD!

    Already we have too many radical, right-wing, neo-con, zealots taking over other student groups - and this has to STOP! The University experience is all about a Universal Education!

  13. Wow---a lot of people pissed off here because Mark is demanding the Constitutional rules be followed.

    If you don't like the rules as they are now, work to get them changed. That starts with the Board of Regents.

    This aint tough to figure out (unless you're a "journalist")

  14. "Revisions to state Board of Regents' policies in 2009 did away with the section concerning the rights and authority of the Rebel Yell's advisory board. Neither the board nor the student government were informed of the changes, "

    BTW, all changes are publicized for weeks before each BOR meeting so perhaps the students and the advisory board should be paying more attention to what goes on in those BOR meetings.

  15. Let me get this straight: The Board of Regents eliminated provisions dealing with the RY's advisory board back in 2009, and no one at the RY noticed? That is, no one was paying enough attention to actually cover a story that has real ramifications for students?

    I'm just saying that it seems like something a journalist would have covered.

  16. Mark Ciavola is weird. He is a old guy hanging out around the young students running a GOP gameplan. He gets paid by Joe Heck and doesn't really complete courses. His sole and only purpose on campus is to corrupt the system and destroy it from the inside out. And recruit PAID minions to do his evil bidding for Joe Heck and others. He will be a fly in the ointment at every turn because he doesn't really believe in students or school - he is there to kill public education and implement the GOP agenda. He is scary. He is not good. His intentions are bad. And that is my opinion. It makes me sad that he has gotten this far in his devious endeavors and just now someone is starting to notice. :0(

    The students deserve a President who will advocate for them. Help them. And protect their press. This guy is sick.

  17. 1 of 2

    Back in the day, in the 1970's, State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNYAB) was the "Berkeley of the East" the biggest most radical public university in the Northeast. SUNYAB's 28,000 student body yielded such huge amounts of student fees that there were TWO student newspapers, The Spectrum and Ethos. The unified undergraduate/graduate/professional school student government organization owned the newspapers and carried liability insurance in case one of the papers' budding journalists libeled someone. While the unified student government set the "subsidy budget" for each of the newspapers, they did not appoint the Editor in Chief or have any control over editorial content, nor did the governing documents for the unified student government contain any provision claiming that the governing body for the unified student government could appoint Editors in Chief, let alone set editorial policy.

    As a result, I expect that any court of law looking at the governing documents for UNLV's student government would say that the express language of those governing documents, which say that the student government appoints the Editor in Chief, control over general principles of journalistic independence. Apparently the UNLV student government owns the Rebel Yell, just like FOX owns the Wall Street Journal, and just like SUNYAB's unified student government owned 2 newspapers.

    That's the difference between wanna-be lawyers in student government and wanna-be journalists on student newspapers. The wanna-be lawyers understand how the real world works, while the wanna-be journalists only understand what they think is right. Sorry kids, journalism is a business in the real world, and contracts, bylaws and other legal documents control over what you think is fair or right. You'll learn that if you're lucky enough to get a paying job at any print or internet publication, or TV or radio station.

    I know this stuff cold because at SUNYAB in the 1970's the competition between the two student newspapers for subsidy money was so keen, each of the "Editorial Boards" of the two newspapers surreptitiously put together and ran "slates" of candidates for control of the undergraduate student government, which had the most votes on the unified student government body which owned the newspapers.

  18. 2 of 2

    In my sophomore year, the smaller newspaper (Ethos) and the jocks put together a slate to take control of the undergraduate student government away from the editorial board of the larger student newspaper (Spectrum) and Ethos and the Jocks won the election.

    Despite their "loss" of control of the student government, The Spectrum remained a fine student newspaper and while their adversary, Ethos, theoretically controlled the student government, during that time period The Spectrum produced such well known journalists as Tom Toles (editorial cartoonist), Howard Kurtz (WaPo, CNN, Daily Beast), Gary Cohn (Pullitzer Prize winner), Jo-Anne Armao (Editorial staff of WaPo) and Dennis Arnold, one of the most brilliant lawyers and legal writers in California.

    So grow up junior journalists at Rebel Yell. What you learn in journalism school, about journalistic independence, is antiquated b.s. Learn to play by the rules, research and write the truth, and take your lumps if the "owner" of your employer doesn't like what you write. The 5 fine journalists named above did so, even though their newspaper didn't receive as much subsidy money as their Editorial Board wanted.

  19. This is simple...if there's that much backlash, cut the CSUN funding of the Rebel Yell and let them be "independent"....let's see how long they last on their own....LMFAO

    That's what I thought...

  20. I'm weighing in now, because this story was just printed in yesterday's newspaper. I hope that, by now, the Board of Regents has settled this or at least, given it priority.

    It's hard to argue that the partisan student government is better qualified to choose the Rebel Yell's nonpartisan editor than the expert, diverse advisory board that has been authorized to choose the editor for the past 16 years. From the comments above I gather that other distinguished universities do not have student government choose their newspaper editors.

    The integrity and the national reputation of UNLV's School of Journalism will be on the line until this matter is resolved.