“COME, ONYOU WANT TO BECOME EXTINCT?” THE DAILY TEXAN Stifling a Free Student Newspaper at U.T. Excerpts from a talk by the Observer editor this week to a meeting sponsored by the UT Student Union Speakers Committee on the demise of the student paper: AUSTIN I fear I am going to disappoint those of you who came to this meeting to hear a pleasant, somewhat bemused exchange of amenities. I infinitely prefer being amenable. But as a former editor of the Daily Texan, as one who owes the traditions of that institution more than he can ever repay, it is impossible for me to sit back and smile idly at the sight of a handful of political appointees, assisted by journalistic academics, do what they have just done. I’ll tell you what they have done, as if there can be any disagreement among people who know the realities of student journalism on this campus: they have taken the largest and in a very real sense the final step in dismantling the 61-year-old tradition of student freedom and dissent on the Daily Texan. T WAS a fine tradition, perhaps the finest single tradition in American college journalism. It began, it was nurtured, in those exciting days when populism was on the wan and progressivism was on the uplift, and from these and from a downright ornery Texas tradition of independence and outspokenness it grew and it thrived. The community of former Texan editors is a rare community. It has a kind of mystique all its own, and most of us understand and share in that mystique even though most of us are prima donnas and some of us don’t get along. I think we have tried as best we could to pass along intact to our successors that freedom and independence. Occasionally, in our private consciences, we have made the hard and lonely decision to fight the political appointees full-scale and without qualification when we saw them moving in on the Texan or on the Universityworried as they often are about the slightest signs of discontent among the rural tories and urban potentates who run things and who care as much about freedom of the student press as \(and this is sow cares about Keat’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” It is well known, and I think these have been some of the proudest hours in the history of this University, that in times of stress for the University of Texas the Daily Texan has risen to genuine heights of courage and greatness when few or no others would speak out. I care not what the journalistic academics, or the administration, or least of all the present board of regents, tell us about this latest move to make the editorship appointive. The fact remains, and of this I am certain because I have experienced it as directly as a man can experience it, that the old and tested custom of electing Texan editors, of setting up a young man or a young woman in that job by direct popular mandate of the students themselves, has been the last great defense of the free tradition of the Daily Texan. When an editor gets into troubleand, troubles are inevitable for any college editor worth his salthe always has that popular mandate to fall back upon. It has been psychological; it has been almost physical. Now it is gone, abolished by simple fiat with the journalistic academics and the administration not merely acquiescing, but actually spearheading the whole project. The history of the Daily Texan in the last 25 years is the history of a gradual and inevitable trend toward complete control. First they moved in a “publications advisor” and set him up in his good spacious office. They took the managing editorship, which once was an elective position, and they began appointing him by a panel with a faculty majority. Once the editors of the three student publications had votes on the publications board. These votes were taken away. Then the “publications advisor” was moved from his good spacious office and set up shop in the Texan office on a night shiftnot trusting a parttime assistantwhere at close range he could enjoy, or suffer, the task of censorship. They have increased the number of hours of journalism courses necessary to apply for editor \(the great student daily at the University of North Carolina requires no joureach year made the editorship the property of the journalism school. WHO, KNOWING this history, has any doubts that the next move, whether it comes in one year or three or ten, will be to reverse the 5-4 student majority on the publications board now entrusted to appoint future editors? And how easy it will be, and how quietly it will take place! They have, of course, gone to great lengths to tell us how efficient the Texan henceforth will be. Selling out the 61-year tradition of freedom and dissent for a little efficiency is no trivial bargain ; it reaches to the depths of honor and pride and human independence. And yet we have witnessed the absolutely incredible spectacle of the chairman of the school of journalism going to the political appointees and asking, actually asking, that the elected editor be abolished. To me, and I daresay to any newspaperman gravely concerned about the widening breach between the free conscience and the realities of control in the contemporary American press, this was a most ironic spectacle. I see no need to dwell on another proposition : the simple idea of elective democracy, the idea that students deserve, in itself, the right to elect their editor to their newspaper, partly financed by their student fees. The director of the journalism school, I noted, argued among other things that the Daily Texan has more pages and a larger circulation in 1962 than it did when the elective editorship began. In 1791 the government of the United States was somewhat smaller than it is today and the population is now a little larger, so I suppose we should follow the director’s bristling logic to its conclusion and begin appointing our presidents with the people in a 5-4 majority over the generals, or the admirals, or perhaps the directors of Standard Oil. For that matter, it would be considerably more efficient to take the election of the University Sweetheartsand I am certainly qualified to speak on this score since I married oneout of the hands of the students and give the task to a panel of physiologists who might study measurements, IQ, and the other accoutrements more scientifically. After all, University Sweethearts are larger now than they were in 1900, and I imagine they circulate a great deal more. I have also seen in the papers that certain journalistic academics want the Texan editor to be a graduate student \(deeply involved, one would guess, in such theses as “36 Point Bold Italic in the Early Medieval Period” and “Sports Writing in Tudor Engbe more efficient. The communists have long recognized the logic of this view. Their student editors are not only appointed, they are usually about 35 years old. One cannot escape the conclusion, of course, that what the political appointees, the administration, and the journalistic academics want is a thoroughgoing laboratory newspaper like the University of Missouri, North Texas State, and the Yazoo City high school Flashlight, from whence I sprang. They want an empty and attractive shell. Surrender of the editor’s independence be he conservative, moderate, liberal, or non-political, it matters notfor a greater stress on neat topography, nice makeup, and slightly more professional feature stories on retired janitors, bluebonnet belles, and intramural touch football teams is a sad step indeed. I read in the papers that this decision was reached after a survey was made of Texas newspapermen, who recommended the change. What Texas newspapermen ? “W h i t e Horse” Dealy of the Dallas News ? Roy Whittenburg of the Amarillo GlobeTimes-News ? Or perhaps William Randolph Hearst Jr., that good Texan who calls the shots for the San Antonio Light? I do know that in our modest little enterprise two people on our staff of three were recent Daily Texan editors, but perhaps the survey wasn’t meant to be that comprehensive. The first I heard about it was in the papers. Does anyone find their recommendation surprising? In a state described by Harper’s Magazine six years ago as having one of the worst daily presses in the whole country, whose editorial tradition is either one of flaming timidity or late Victorian conservatism, who is surprised that our provincial newspapermen support any move that serves to stifle a vivacious and courageous student daily? ONE CAN ONLY imagine the pressures that will be brought to bear on an appointed editor. Political thinkers since ‘time immemorial as well as practicing politicians at the Texas legislature know that prerogative, power, judgment are essentially controlled by the source from which that prerogative and power and judgment emanate. A political spoils system is being instituted here, and the arbiters of that system will be campus politicians and University employees. The politicking for Texan editor which is of such concern to the journalism director is being transferred from the campus at large to a mere roomful of judges. Instead of 50 smoke-filled rooms, there will be one. Pity the unfortunate young journalist who tries for the editorship after having composed an article critical of Thornton Hardie’s theological views on the Negroid race. or satirical of a Texas governor. The new method will actively discourage potential young editors from writing outspoken contributions. An H. L. Mencken, a Hodding Carter, a Jonathan Daniels, a Ralph McGill, a TRB probably would not fare so well before a panel of campus politicians and appointed academics. And once in office, the pressures from within would be almost killing. The greatest and final step has been taken. There still may be moments of the old daysflashes of Horace Busby, Max Skelton, Shirley Strum, Ronnie Dugger, Boyd Sinclair, D. B. Hardeman, Robb Burlage, Jo Eickmann. But the lasting blow has been dealt. I believe that students at the University should begin now to devote their talents and their energies to the idea of a small, independent student newspaper printed off-campus, drawing to it the best writing and journalistic talent on the campus, making it responsible, well-written, and vital. Why not call it “The Old Texan?” I daresay if a more respectable former editor than I were placed in charge of a fund-raising campaign, he could get a minimum of $50 each from most of the old Texan editors. I pledge $100 to that cause. HERE IS no reason to delude ourselves. Until that day comes in Texas when our society has become so politically sophisticated as to dictate the appointment of University regents committed to the proposition that student and faculty creativity and dissent are the marks of higher civilization, a free Texan is a sham. The old Daily Texan that was once the finest and freest institution at the University of Texas is just about dead. Long live the Daily Texan ! W.M.
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