The Yale College Council last night forestalled a decision that seems increasingly unwise: absorbing YaleStation.org, a private student Web services provider. By paring down a proposed resolution, the council has bought itself some time to reconsider a plan that needlessly puts the interests of creative undergraduate organizations — including media outlets — on a collision course with those of elected representatives.
Consider what was averted last night: the creation of YCC-controlled Web services empire, doling out contracts for coveted Web pages, overseeing content for radio and television stations, and confusing the mission of student advocates.
As the News’ editorial board wrote yesterday, it’s hard to understand why this shotgun marriage of the Yale College Council and YaleStation was ever proposed; there seem to be no happy endings for either party. By huddling under the council’s umbrella, YaleStation is condemning itself to a life of mismanaged oblivion. And by assuming yet another role, the council is straying so far from its core mission that it has almost entirely faded out of sight.
Why care? Because the alliance would run roughshod over the independence of small publications and independent producers — the Lineups and the Telis — that are often on the edge of innovation and struggle to find a voice.
The rumblings have already started. Just read the cover story in Friday’s Yale Herald.
Here’s Rob Rhee ’04, a film producer, in the Herald: “It seems inevitable that content would be censored.”
And Gil Doron ’04, one of the founders of Teli, the YaleStation-affiliated Web television group: “With too many forces determining content — especially forces that might not benefit from certain types of creative programming — you have a danger of censorship and inappropriate influence.”
The Yale College Council is clearly aware of the problem. Council members supporting the alliance took pains last night to stipulate that the council will have no control over editorial content of YaleStation-affiliated groups and that groups can appeal to the dean’s office if they believe they are being censored.
This is an admirable dodge, but it’s not artful, and it’s not good enough. The commingling of interests will simply run too deep. According to the resolution considered — but gutted last night — the head of the new YaleStation would be approved by the council, which would also decide who gets what leadership positions within YaleStation. Not to mention that the YaleStation head would be a member of the council’s executive board.
There was plenty more to fear in the proposed resolution.
Perhaps most egregiously, the council would decide what student groups get to use YaleStation’s media facilities — and all groups that are approved must be reapproved each year by the council. Current officers, of course, claim there will be no favortism.
But the same people who approve groups now will be gone in three months. Who will replace them? A new slate of officers, some perhaps maintaining affiliations with groups that want access to YaleStation. The same contracts will be up for renewal every year, with new roommates, friends and friends of friends handing out contracts in an ethical free-for-all.
Does anyone doubt that a conservative group might have a hard time getting a pro-life Web site running on YaleStation? Or how about an organization that produces short films mocking the council or Spring Fling? Sure, the council says it won’t directly censor student organizations. But might those groups get subtly passed over each year when the council doles out YaleStation bandwidth? And how about a media site critical of Yale policy? Might the council’s officers quietly bury it to smooth the path of their advocacy work with the administration?
The answer is we don’t know. And that answer is not good enough.
Perhaps the eminently quotable Betty Trachtenberg said it best. “I am deeply nonplussed,” she told the Herald. “There’s something strange about all of this.”
Where should we go from here?
Let’s keep what works. YaleStation in its current form — as a private organization — has a lot to offer. The technical virtuosity of the site’s founder, Alexander Clark ’04, is impressive. YaleStation’s guide to New Haven is the best around. But the most important of YaleStation’s facets is its unique position to partner technical acumen with creative vision. YaleStation has shown it can be a perfect venue to match up students who like technical work but are short on projects with creative types who have plenty of vision but little technical skill.
That potential would be compromised if the council absorbs YaleStation.
It would be a boon for creative and media groups if YaleStation could be reorganized into a joint venture of its affiliates. Organizations such as Teli and WYBC and anyone else who wanted to expand into online media could each contribute a small part of the resources and funding to operate YaleStation. This independence will always be preferable to an alliance with the council.
The Yale College Council came dangerously close last night to passing a resolution that could bring an independent Web services provider under the thumb of student government. The council would do well to avoid that peril.
Michael Barbaro is a senior in Davenport College and a former editor in chief of the Yale Daily News. Charles Forelle is a senior in Pierson College and a former managing editor of the News.