by Alexa Schwerha
Pro-free speech campus activism at Texas A&M University defeated the university president’s attempt to cease the print production of The Battalion, a student-run newspaper.
According to the student publication, the outlet would then be transitioned to operate under a newly anticipated Department of Journalism, effectively blurring the line on whether or not the group would retain its resources and independence as a student organization status.
The Battalion is a 129-year-old campus institution that first began printing in 1893. The paper introduced an online presence in 1997, choosing to conduct business on both platforms to honor both innovation and tradition.
Throughout its history, however, the paper has never operated under the thumb of university oversight. All publication decisions have routinely been made by the editor-in-chief.
The Battalion further reported that declining the university leadership’s Feb. 10 directive to conjoin with the journalism department may strip the group of university resources such as funding and office space – two criteria critical to operating a student newsroom.
However, student activism and vocal opposition led to university administrators declaring the new plans void.
On Monday, the university’s Student Government Association held a special session in which Banks spoke to the audience. Students in attendance argued that her plans would result in additional oversight and hampered freedom of the press, according to The Battalion.
The next day, Banks published a transcript of her speech to the student government, clearly noting that communication between the students and the administration was an issue and would be remedied.
Banks walked back the original demand and reaffirmed her commitment to fostering free press on campus while rebutting the alleged consequences proposed to the outlet’s leadership.
“Last fall, I announced that we would bring back a journalism department to our campus. That action does not align with someone who does not support a free press,” Banks stated.
Furthermore, she confirmed that “at no point were there any plans approved for a reduction in Battalion funding or loss of MSC space,” and doubled down that she would “never attempt to influence or control the content of the student newspaper.”
Additionally, she stated that the university cannot ask a student organization to “give up their status.”
The proposal was designed by “university leadership” in an attempt to move the publication toward digital and multimedia opportunities, as well as to cater to a younger audience.
“Our thoughts regarding The Battalion in print were based only on undeniable trends in industry, not any particular Battalion article, advertisement, or opinion,” Banks clarified.
“My commitment to free speech remains strong,” she continued. “I would never attempt to influence or control the content of the student newspaper. It is and must remain an independent voice of the students.”
Still, students remained determined to preserve the traditional printed publication.
An online campaign titled #SaveTheBatt took College Station circles by storm, and a petition gathered over 7,200 signatures in support of preserving the physical publication.
“The physical copies of the Battalion are as integral a tradition to Texas A&M as the Century Tree, the MSC grass, and Midnight Yell,” the petition reads.
The petition also links to additional resources supporters can utilize to showcase their support for the publication, including a donation site to increase publication funds, scripts to message the SGA, alumni, and university administration, and an application for current students to serve on the SBP Parks’ Task Force on Student Organization Rights.
The students have also received the backing of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech non-profit organization that “defend[s] and sustain[s] the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities.”
The organization joined the fight Feb. 15 after publishing an article that detailed the actions taken to inquire about the decision to cease printing weekly editions “effective immediately”.
Despite the walk-backs by Banks, FIRE insists “those decisions- or any pertaining to The Battalion’s operations- are not Banks’ to make.”
“That directive comes at the behest of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment,” FIRE states.
In addition to the commentary, FIRE has sent a letter to Banks to inquire about her motives in addition to filing a public records request and signing a College Media Association letter of support.
Because we’re awfully curious about the motives behind TAMU’s stunning move, we’re filing public records requests to find out more.
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) February 15, 2022
In the published transcript, Banks also included a statement regarding how the events unfolded throughout the month and hinted at the work the administration has before them to adhere to student demands.
“There were several questions from the Student Senate related to communications between students and the administration. Both Vice President of Student Affairs For Ramirez and I have heard our students clearly: We need to do better,” she wrote.
Campus Reform has reached out to The Battalion, Banks, and the university for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.
– – –
Alexa Schwerha is a reporter for Campus Reform. She was the Regional Field Coordinator at Leadership Institute for Texas and New Mexico. She graduated Kent State University with a degree in Communication Studies and Political Science. Prior to her work at the Leadership Institute, she worked for the Ohio Republican Party to help elect Republicans across the state during the 2020 election cycle.
Photo “Texas A&M University” by Texas A&M University.