Student government rejects proposal to take editorial power from yearbook staff

Thursday, February 1, 2001

Michigan State University’s Student Assembly has rejected parts
of a bill that would have stripped control of the school’s yearbook from
the staff, but agreed to accept provisions of the bill including hiring a
diversity managing editor for the publication.

The assembly also voted Jan. 25 to require a student government
representative to submit two detailed reports concerning the
Red Cedar Log‘s content to
the assembly, according to a Jan. 29 article in The
State News,
MSU’s student publication. The reports
apparently would be used only to keep student government representatives
abreast of the yearbook staff’s work.

The Black Student Alliance representative to the Student Assembly,
Crystal Price, along with Melanie Olmsted, the Women’s Council
representative, introduced the bill on Jan. 19 to ensure more coverage of
minorities in the yearbook, according to a Student Press Law Center news

The original bill would have given the student government the power to
overrule the decisions made by the yearbook editor.

“We made a lot of concessions,” Price said in a Jan. 26
State News article, referring to the
failed portions of the bill. On Jan. 24, also in The State News, Olmsted said, “I think it
is a definite step in the right direction.”

The Native American Student Organization representative to the
assembly, Bryan Newland, proposed two similar bills in December that would have
given editorial control of the yearbook to the student government. Newland
criticized the yearbook staff for what he called scant coverage of minority
issues, the group’s news release says.

“The only part of the bill that I supported was the
establishment of a diversity editor because that makes the book more
diverse,” said Rianne Jones, an MSU senior and editor of the
Red Cedar Log.

Katie Harper, the yearbook’s business manager, said she was
pleased with the amendments to the bill, according to the Student Press Law

“We want as many inputs and reactions as we can get and if
people do not just come to us cramming bills in our face, we are more than
willing to help,” Harper told SPLC, which monitors public college and
high school free-press issues. “The outcome turned out OK, but I think
it is going to be a long battle, and it could have turned out a lot

Jones said the yearbook staff was making an extra effort to include
more minority coverage for the upcoming 2000-2001 edition of the publication.
The staff has added an extra campus life spread and replaced three stories with
entries that deal with more minority issues, she said.

“I do not object to what they’re asking for, but I hope
that they realize they cannot legally require me to put them in the
book,” Jones told SPLC. “I think the student government
doesn’t understand the First Amendment and they want to ensure that
years from now the editor isn’t going to leave anyone out,” Jones

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center,
said, “One thing the controversy has done is make the yearbook staff
realize how strongly people feel about these issues and how much they want
representation in the yearbook pages.

“I think there will be some ongoing discussion about the
issue,” Goodman said.

Goodman added that he hoped the concessions would end the fight over
who will control the yearbook’s content. “We were very concerned
that the bill the student government was proposing was flat out censorship and

“We want to ensure that all students’ rights at Michigan
State are protected,” said Goodman. “If they can do this to the
yearbook staff, they can do this to any organization on campus. They could deny
certain speakers from speaking on campus or prohibit certain movies from being
shown. This case has certain implications beyond the yearbook

The Red Cedar Log has the
highest circulation of any college yearbook in the country. Jones told the SPLC
that the school would publish 21,000 copies of the publication, scheduled to be
released in August.

According to MSU’s Web site, each student is charged a $3 per
semester student tax fee to fund the publication of the yearbook. The student
government provides the money for staff salaries.