Last week I received a column from our “Political Animal” columnist Alex Carleton. It was on the complications of keeping emergency bursary program sustainable, the relationship of the Student Representative Council (SRC) when tasked with tough decision-making and the means of reaching an agreement.
The article was knowledgeable, provocative and well-thought out. It was a good column. But I told Alex that I wouldn’t be publishing it.
Why? Because publishing the article would be a conflict of interest. Carleton, as a member of the SRC, was writing about decisions made by the political body he is a member of.
I recruited Alex to write about opinion pieces on politics for the Aquinian for a reason, he is extremely knowledgeable and fair, but his mandate doesn’t include student politics. Alex seemed proud of the column, and rightfully so, but he understood.
Conflict of interest is only acceptable if it is declared beforehand. For example, several weeks ago the Aquinian commissioned Carleton and STUSU President John Hoben to discuss constitutional changes then proposed for the SRC. The issue was complicated and important, and we hoped their inside perspectives might help students understand and weigh the numerous proposals.
Some community newspapers do run columns from their local member of Parliament or provincial legislature. Some obviously do it just to fill space.
On Saturdays the Telegraph-Journal has run columns from political parties of New Brunswick. Most papers publish op-eds from politicians on the important issues of the day. If politicians seek issue with our coverage, our letter sections are always open. This is a great medium to send in your issues with our paper.
However our issue with this is simple: We can’t allow a politician a regular platform. It is unfair. It is not available to others and creates a conflict of interest. At the end of the day, politicians do what their title suggests: They engage in politicking. Many, even at the student level, are competitive and partisan, especially in the case when an elected official has plans to run again for office.
As a paper, it is important for us to be vigilant that no incumbent is awarded an unfair advantage. This is especially the case when the spring student union election is not far around the corner.
Moreover, as our job titles suggest, editors need to edit. It’s how we maintain quality and fairness. While we can choose to run an op-ed piece submitted by a politician, we can also choose to reject it, demand that it be rewritten, or edit it substantially. We cannot surrender our editorial control, particularly if we want to engage our readers.
The campus paper must be able to select the columnists it wants and get rid of them if they are not working out – for whatever reason, including quality, taste and editorial balance.
The Aquinian is an important forum for political discourse on campus. Covering the affairs of student governance is a part of our mandate, one we take seriously. For that reason, it is one that we must never surrender control over.
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