Without immediate action, the Tower Light as we know it will become a thing of the past.
For nearly 65 years, the Tower Light has served as a beacon for creative writing and visual art on campus. What began as a supplement to The Collegian in 1955, the Tower Light became a standalone publication the next year. Since then, it has continued to grow and improve in quality, becoming the professional, beautiful publication that students recognize on campus today.
Last spring, the Student Federation voted to cut the Tower Light’s budget in half. It argued that not enough students read the publication to justify its budget of $5,500 per semester, $4,500 of which goes directly to printing costs.
Against the advice of the publication’s advisor, Maria Servold, a faculty member who has managed student publications for eight years, members of Student Fed decided to cut the budget, challenging the Tower Light to print more cheaply, and, at the same time, increase outreach and student interest.
As editor-in-chief this semester, I have been told by the federation my responsibility is to make the publication more appealing to students — with half the budget. As it stands, the Tower Light will be printed on folded, stapled cardstock, rather than the glue binding and high-quality paper that literary magazines at top-tier universities use, and that we have used for years, with advice from the college’s external affairs department.
We, at the Tower Light, have done our utmost to improve outreach since our budget was cut in May, in line with what Student Fed requested of us.
We began an Instagram account this summer to reach out to incoming students and those who might miss our announcements over email. We’ve begun once more to hang posters around campus with submission information, and we’ll be bringing back the tradition of an open writers workshop in October.
We’re continuing with greater emphasis our tradition of meeting with writers to help them grow. As we have for the past decade, we discuss works anonymously in meetings so that every writer who submits is regarded equally. We’ve returned to our principles and asked how we can become more approachable and accessible to students while fulfilling our purpose, and we’ve taken action accordingly. We’ve seen promising results, with a rise in submissions and new contributors.
On Thursday, September 12, some members of Student Fed challenged the decision to cut funding. After finding an inflated emergency fund containing a previously unknown about $41,000 in it over the summer — only $10,000 of which are necessary, by the federation’s own rules, to keep — it now has an extra $31,000 to allocate beyond its regular budget of $100,000 for the 2019 – 2020 school year, Director of Student Activities Alexandra Whitford said.
The finance committee moved to give the Tower Light $5,000, but the publications committee stood against it. It’s the responsibility of the finance committee to dispense funds wisely for the benefit of students, and the responsibility of the publications committee to support and improve student publications.
While it’s important that Student Fed funds campus improvements, like new benches and a new pool table, it is also responsible to uphold that part of its constitution that stipulates it fund the Tower Light. It has the money and the ability to restore the Tower Light to a publication that represents the excellence of Hillsdale College, and yet it refuses to do so.
Student Federation President and senior James Milius said he wants the Tower Light to succeed.
“While the Federation and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on how to go about funding these publications, I know that we all have the same goal,” he said. “I will continue working to find solutions to help the Tower Light produce an excellent edition this semester, and will work to help secure its place on Hillsdale’s campus for the future.”
Several members of Student Fed have asked if a glue binding is worth it. They wonder whether it makes a difference how the Tower Light is held together. They have indicated that the words inside would be the same.
As important as these points may be, they ignore the statement implicit in a high-quality printing: when we print a high-quality Tower Light, we produce something that could stand alongside publications of top-tier universities.
Hillsdale claims to offer an education equal to or better than any other college in the country. Our student publications ought to show it.
When we print a high-quality product, we show that we prioritize the arts and respect student creativity. We agree that we are here to pursue truth, and that environment encourages us to contemplate goodness — perhaps most explicitly when President Larry Arnn asks, “What is the good?” But our studies here will be incomplete if we turn away from beauty.
The Tower Light is beautiful. It contains graceful words and images. But if we are unwilling to frame these words and images in equally elegant materials, does it look like we really believe in them?
Assistant Professor of English Benedict Whalen said he often uses the Tower Light as an example of how the arts flourish at Hillsdale. When he speaks to prospective students concerned by one-sided stereotypes of the school, he brings out old copies of our literary journal to show them that we can and do come together to create works of great beauty, as well as studying them.
“Tower Light is an excellent, beautiful publication,” he said. “It is valuable as a forum for our students to share their devotion to the finer things.”
The Tower Light is worth preserving. Your creative voice is worth sharing with the world, and sharing in a way that is rich and meaningful.
I encourage you to stand up to Student Fed and challenge it to fulfill its responsibility with higher principles in mind. I encourage you to submit pieces to the Tower Light, embracing the joy and vulnerability of art.
Most of all, I encourage you to seek beauty alongside your pursuit of truth and goodness, and where you find it, to give the lovely things their due.
Mary Kate Boyle is a senior studying English and French and is the editor-in-chief of the Tower Light.