What are we afraid of?

By Mac Weekly Staff

The University of Southern California has set a troubling precedent by overriding its student newspaper’s choice for this coming semester’s Editor-in-Chief. USC’s Daily Trojan is not technically an “independent” publication—the actions of its editors must be approved by the school’s Student Media Board, which has no equivalent at Macalester and which seems to be the USC administration’s means of keeping its students and their opinions in line—but all the same we feel that it’s counterproductive for a respected university to resort to silencing its journalists like so many third-world dictators. The editor in question, Zach Fox, was allegedly ousted after expressing his desire to significantly change the way the newspaper operated—and specifically to allow the paper’s editorial board more freedom from administration oversight. According to USC’s vice president for student affairs, Fox was denied the position because his plans for the paper placed too much emphasis on changing its mission and not enough on actually managing its day-to-day operations. Fox argued that this line of reasoning was moot since he’d specifically advocated the creation of a new managing-editor position to help manage the paper in a more hands-on fashion.

Whatever the merits of each side’s argument, the issue at hand here goes much deeper than the firing of one student newspaper’s editor-in-chief. Implicit in the university’s control of the Daily Trojan is a desire to control not only the intellectual impulses of its students—as if too much intellectual freedom might cause USC undergraduates to suddenly erupt in rebellion against their draconian oppressors—but the outward image it projects to its neighbors, its financiers, its prospective students and faculty. The university’s real problem is not the fact that it’s censoring the editor of its daily newspaper, although as a rule that’s pretty low thing to do. USC’s real problem is fear: fear that it might fail to maintain some sort of façade of campus unity, of common purpose, of intellectual community. Such ideals are impossible to realize at a school the size of Macalester, so it’s ludicrous for USC’s administration to expect it to happen there.

What’s depressing—and depressingly obvious— is that USC’s fear isn’t unique to USC. As competition between institutions of higher education for students, faculty, grant money and donations has intensified over the past decade, this country’s colleges and universities are increasingly relying on image-specific marketing (Macalester as a well-intentioned “center for global citizens,” the University of Chicago as an oasis of intellectual pursuit, and so forth) to secure themselves a place in a shrinking marketplace. USC doesn’t want anyone rocking its boat and rattling the serenity of its image—and, when it comes down to it, neither does Macalester. We’re just a little more subtle about how we advertise that fact.