University News

UFB, Visions controversy resolved

Leaders of the magazine petitioned against the board’s funding cut and threat to control content

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

After controversy flared online Sunday over a proposed budget cut to the literary arts publication Visions, a meeting Monday afternoon between Undergraduate Finance Board representatives and Visions leaders appeared to partially resolve what UFB members described as a misunderstanding.

But Visions continued to circulate an online petition as of Monday evening criticizing UFB for a general lack of transparency and what the publication’s leaders saw as an initial attempt to usurp its editorial independence.

Next year the publication is likely to receive all the funding it originally requested, said Zachary Fischer ’13, UFB chair.

Initial budgets for student groups next year were released the week before spring break, marking the first time Visions editors heard the publication was slotted to receive 85 percent of its proposed funding. When Visions, a Brown-Rhode Island School of Design Asian/Asian-American literature and art publication, went to a UFB appeals meeting April 9, its leaders were told the cuts were due to the high number of RISD student contributions in its most recent issue, said Larry Au ’14, Visions editor-in-chief.

In response, Visions posted a petition online Sunday lambasting UFB’s decision and demanding the board revise its decision in a second round of appeals. The petition specifically criticized Alex Sherry ’15, a UFB at-large representative, for allegedly telling Visions at the meeting that UFB could influence its editorial content because it funds the magazine.

Sherry is running for UFB chair in the elections that begin today, and commenters on The Herald website have called for his defeat, citing the controversy.

Daniel Pipkin ’14, UFB vice chair and UCS presidential candidate in today’s elections, previously met with RISD officials about funding collaborative groups, Au wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald. But other UFB members appeared to have little knowledge of the interaction, he added.

Pipkin told The Herald he was unavailable to comment.

Fischer and Sherry said the budget cut was a preliminary suggestion, not based on the number of RISD student contributions.

This year’s budgeting process is the first in which UFB is actively trying to get RISD to partially fund collaborative student groups between the two institutions, Sherry said.

Visions leaders said they were not informed of this policy before they applied for funding. The publication only became an official Brown-RISD collaborative effort at the beginning of this semester.

Both before and after the April 9 meeting, Visions leaders contacted RISD’s Center for Student Involvement — the equivalent of UFB — but Au said they have not heard back yet.

UFB initially declined to fund the full proposed budget in order to open a discussion between the University and RISD, Fischer said, adding that the 15 percent initial decrease was due to the fact that some Visions magazines are distributed on the RISD campus.

Au estimated that less than 10 percent of Visions issues are distributed to RISD, describing the number as “negligible.”

“Distribution is always considered,” Fischer said. “The most important thing is that Brown students have access (to the publications) first.”

“By no means do we believe that RISD students shouldn’t be involved,” Fischer said, citing a lack of communication from both parties as the cause of the conflict.

UFB is “trying to establish a partnership between Brown and RISD,” Sherry said. The board’s intention with the preliminary budget decrease was to give Visions time to ask RISD how much the school could contribute and then return to UFB to work out the difference, he said.

“UFB’s (initial) budget is in no way set in stone,” Fischer said.

“I see (Visions) getting the full amount (of their budget) — I just don’t know where it will be from,” he said.

Budgets for student groups will not be finalized until the beginning of next year, Sherry said.

Visions’ petition received over 100 signatures in its first hour, and within 15 hours it had over 300 signatures, Au said.

At the meeting Monday afternoon, Sherry, Au and Fischer had a “productive conversation” about UFB’s communication practices, Au wrote.

“UFB can’t tell us what we can and cannot publish,” Au said before the meeting.

“No one on the board believes that” UFB should dictate student publications’ editorial policies, Fischer said.

Sherry told The Herald, “I fundamentally oppose the notion that UFB has the right to dictate editorial content.”

But Visions leaders criticized the board’s approach to the situation. “The entire (budgeting) process was not transparent at all,” said Mabel Fung ’15, a Visions managing editor.

Visions’ online petition criticizes UFB for not publishing its meeting minutes online.

In fact, UFB meeting minutes recently appeared online, under the “Supplemental Budgeting” section of UFB’s website, Fischer said.

The most recent meeting minutes are now available from the board’s April 2 meeting.

Kate Holguin ’13, managing editor of Clerestory Journal of the Arts, a Brown-RISD collaborative literary arts publication, said RISD funds 10 percent of Clerestory’s budget annually.

“RISD is much smaller than Brown, and there isn’t as much involvement with student organizations,” Holguin said.

UFB has decreased Clerestory’s budget in the past due to a general lack of funds, Holguin said, adding that she feels UFB doesn’t respect arts and humanities groups as much as other student organizations.

Holguin said she supports Visions’ petition, referring to its message as “taking a stand against something that has been going on for a while.”

Additional content written by Sherry and representing UFB’s perspective has since been added to the online petition.