Students and faculty filled the Formal Lounge to show their support for or against the Tower Light budget increase vote at the 9/26 Student Federation meeting. Virginia Aabram | Collegian
Stu­dents and faculty filled the Formal Lounge to show their support for or against the Tower Light budget increase vote at the 9/26 Student Fed­er­ation meeting. Vir­ginia Aabram | Col­legian

A group of about 70 stu­dents and faculty attended the Sept. 26 Student Fed­er­ation meeting to express their support or oppo­sition to a funding request to rein­state the funds which were cut from the Tower Light budget last spring. 

The Student Fed­er­ation voted 9 – 4 to uphold the current, reduced Tower Light budget in a con­tentious meeting that lasted two and a half hours. 

The Thursday meeting was the third time since April 2019 that the Tower Light’s budget had come up for a vote, the first being the initial decision to cut $5,500 from the regular allotment of $11,000. With the addition of a $31,000 dis­cre­tionary surplus the fed­er­ation dis­covered in an emer­gency fund over the summer, the issue was brought up again at the sug­gestion of Dean of Women Diane Philipp and some members of fed­er­ation lead­ership to rein­state the $5,500 in their meeting on Sept. 12. The April budget was upheld 11 – 2 at that meeting. 

The argument revolved mainly around the aes­thetic of the pub­li­cation and whether that was pos­sible on a reduced budget. The fed­er­ation had pre­vi­ously reduced the budget as the result of a decision to have the Tower Light printed in-house for a quarter of the cost at the expense of glue binding, embossed printing, and sharper images.

Some of the objec­tions at the Sept. 12 meeting were based on the fact that the motion did not proceed through normal com­mittee channels. Typ­i­cally, a funding request for any of the pub­li­ca­tions would require meetings with the finance and pub­li­ca­tions com­mittees, with a vote more likely to succeed based on their rec­om­men­da­tions. 

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Tower Light met with the finance com­mittee on Sept. 22, before the most recent Fed­er­ation meeting, to for­mally request that the funds be rein­stated. Between the finance meeting and the Sept. 26th fed­er­ation meeting, an exam­i­nation of the Tower Light account revealed that there were $2,000 more in dis­cre­tionary funds than pre­vi­ously thought, which decreased the amount the pub­li­cation requested to $3,000. 

When the Sept. 26 meeting opened with reports from each com­mittee, the finance com­mittee did not rec­ommend that the Tower Light receive the addi­tional money. This was not the final decision, as that would come down to a vote by the whole fed­er­ation after all dis­cussion had been heard.

The Tower Light saw support early in the form of three letters read aloud during the secretary’s report. One was from a 2010 alumnus and former fed­er­ation pres­ident, another from the Collegian’s Editor-in-Chief Nolan Ryan, and an open letter by Assistant Pro­fessor of English Eliz­abeth Fred­ericks in sol­i­darity with 13 members of the English and fine arts depart­ments that had been pub­lished in the Col­legian earlier that day.

After these reports, Mary Kate Boyle, editor-in-chief of the Tower Light, and Maria Servold, faculty adviser to pub­li­ca­tions, made their case as to why they should receive the funding.

“If you increase our budget, we can print the Tower Light well,” Boyle said. “We’re a school that prides itself on excel­lence, and our pub­li­ca­tions should be no exception. If we say we can offer an edu­cation equal to or better than any other school in the country, that should be clear through the work we publish.”

Servold reminded the fed­er­ation that it is required per its con­sti­tution to provide funding for all student pub­li­ca­tions that fall under its purview and noted the apparent lack of respect on campus for the Tower Light.

“You’re required by the college and your own con­sti­tution to fund the Tower Light,” Servold said. “Obvi­ously that needs to be done rea­sonably and respon­sibly, but everyone involved in the actual making of the Tower Light has created a budget that pro­duces a respectable, beau­tiful, and pro­fes­sional work. All we ask each year is simply what it costs.”

When Boyle and Servold fin­ished their request, the meeting moved into a period of public comment in which the audience had time to voice their opinions on the matter. The com­menting period was limited to a total of 15 minutes, with a maximum of two minutes per comment, and moved in a pro/con alter­nating format.

The 18 people who spoke during this time included some faculty, stu­dents, and Tower Light editors speaking in support of the funding pro­posal, with emphasis on the need for good aes­thetics to match the quality of work within the pages. Some also explained the impor­tance of having an excep­tional lit­erary mag­azine to aid in recruiting stu­dents to come to Hillsdale, as the Tower Light’s pol­ished pre­sen­tation proves that Hillsdale takes the arts seri­ously. Some stu­dents noted this was influ­ential in their decision to attend Hillsdale.

“Aes­thetic is not some­thing that is intu­itive; it’s some­thing, like con­science, that needs to be cul­ti­vated and can be poorly cul­ti­vated,” junior Colm Maines said.

Junior Kailey Andrew, who works in the college admis­sions office, described showing the Tower Light to prospective stu­dents.

“We have a lot of prospective stu­dents inter­ested in studying English who take lit­er­ature very seri­ously,” Andrew said. “Every time I get to show a prospective student the Tower Light, their reaction is always priceless.”

The other half, who spoke against the pro­posal, stressed that there is a middle ground between financial respon­si­bility and aes­thetics, though several of the “con” state­ments were used to ask ques­tions clar­i­fying the exact financial sit­u­ation of the Tower Light.

“It’s what’s on the inside that matters,” sophomore Jacob Hooper said. “I expect each and every one of you to be fis­cally respon­sible, and I have a hard time jus­ti­fying how a printing cost could be so large for such a small   pub­li­cation.”

When public com­ments fin­ished, dis­cussion moved within the Fed­er­ation. 

Rep­re­sen­tative Matthew Mont­gomery opened by voicing support for the reduced budget. Mont­gomery said that he doesn’t believe that paper quality is the only thing that makes art. 

“Art does not require large budgets to flourish and exist so long as a culture that honors art is present, and we have that culture here at Hillsdale College,” Mont­gomery said.  

Vice Pres­ident Madeline Peltzer coun­tered by pointing out that the fed­er­ation is required to allocate money and that they are cur­rently working with double their typical budget. Addi­tionally, the average funding request from groups that come before the fed­er­ation is about $1,500, and what the Tower Light was requesting is equiv­alent to only two of those.

“Why have we chosen this hill to die on?” Peltzer asked.

Rep­re­sen­tative Owen Macaulay weighed in on the side of those sup­porting the current budget by pointing out that Hillsdale’s most far-reaching pub­li­cation, Imprimis, is printed like a brochure, and yet no one would doubt the quality of its content.

Delta Tau Delta Rep­re­sen­tative Joel Meng pointed out that the majority of those arguing over the Tower Light’s print quality — including himself as a newly sworn in member of the fed­er­ation — had never been pre­sented with an example of how the journal would look if printed by the copy center.

When the Chairman of the Pub­li­ca­tions Com­mittee Braden VanDyke’s turn came to speak, he requested that the time limit of two minutes imposed on other fed­er­ation members be lifted for him to fully explain the rationale behind the initial decision to cut the Tower Light’s budget. The request was granted by a fed­er­ation vote.

VanDyke made the same rec­om­men­dation that the funding request not be approved as he did at the last regular fed­er­ation meeting. He brought in numerous examples of print products pro­duced in the college’s copy center, including The Forum and the Bon Appetit mag­azine. VanDyke also described examples of the student-pro­duced lit­erary journals at Harvard, Yale, and the Uni­versity of Chicago. He pointed out that their journals tend to be simple, and mostly online. He stated that his ultimate goal was to make the Tower Light intrin­si­cally respected again by solving what he believed to be a problem with out­reach and campus presence. 

After a five-minute recess there was a motion to end the dis­cussion and move to a vote, which was over­ruled by fed­er­ation Pres­ident James Millius. Dis­cussion con­tinued but moved into debate over the proper han­dling of the federation’s dis­cre­tionary budget surplus, which Millius halted on the grounds that it was not per­tinent to the topic of the Tower Light budget.

What fol­lowed was a flurry of debate over the surplus, the Tower Light budget, and Robert’s Rules of Order. 

When it came time to vote, Tower Light’s funding request was denied 9 – 4, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives VanDyke, Phil Berntson, and Nick Oxaal abstaining. 

The floor was then reopened to general public comment in which both sup­porters and those in oppo­sition of the budget spoke. Dutton Kearney, asso­ciate pro­fessor of English defended the large number of faculty present at the meeting. 

“I’m dis­ap­pointed that you are intim­i­dated by our presence,” Kearney said. “College is a part­nership. I just came to support the Tower Light. Our point is edu­cation and counsel.”

Sec­retary Vic­toria Schmidt and Berntson encouraged those in atten­dance to be civil with those they dis­agreed with after leaving the meeting.

At the close of the meeting, Millius took a step back from his position as pres­ident and chair of the dis­cussion to say, as the most senior member of the board, that he strongly dis­agreed with the vote due to what he described as the federation’s incon­sistent appli­cation of fiscal respon­si­bility prin­ciples.

Meng had the last word, reit­er­ating that it would be ben­e­ficial to actually see the dif­fer­ences in aes­thetics at the heart of the debate.

“It’s hard for us new members of the board to really gauge the quality dif­ference because we weren’t here last semester,” Meng said. “It would be helpful to see price quotes from dif­ferent printers, as well as to hold sample booklets. I just want this to be the best blend of fiscal respon­si­bility and aes­thetics for stu­dents at Hillsdale to enjoy.”