Open Letter: SFC Stipend Cuts Limit Campus Discourse

Sam Morrow, Associate Editor, Wilder Voice

To the Editors:

This semester, the Student Finance Committee elected to reduce The Oberlin Review and Wilder Voice’s allocated stipend hours, leaving the publications’ operating budgets otherwise unaltered. The only thing affected by the changes this semester is the amount of money pooled for editors of the Review and the Voice. With these cuts, the papers’ circulation will do just fine. Alarmingly, the same cannot be said for their content.

Cutting stipends is essentially a problem because you cannot disentangle writing from writers. Though writers have never been paid, those who excel are often promoted to stipended editorial positions. Any piece of writing will eventually lead you to a human being. Pardon my preaching, but humans are creatures of necessity. One thing we don’t need is writing, and that alone should tell you why stipended positions are so incredibly crucial for our newspapers.

Maybe it doesn’t, though, so allow me to argue why writing and editing must be incentivized. Writing is labor; labor requires time; time is the only resource we have to spend. Most folks simply don’t have time to spare; that is, almost all of the world’s population must spend significant amounts of time making money if they want to continue living the way they do. If you remove the ability for them to be spending that time a certain way — namely, writing — they will necessarily spend that time on more profitable pursuits.

Writing is also inherently social. Most all writing, and certainly every journalistic piece of writing, is written in conversation with either someone or some other piece of writing, which, ultimately, is just some other person. Written discourse is already rather exclusive given the financial constraints I’ve mentioned, and if you remove, however indirectly, certain people from participating in a given conversation (e.g. Oberlin’s journalistic dialogue), it’s simply going to decrease even further in quality.

Maybe you don’t think time is a problem for the members of our gated academic community. Fine, but consider this: Money incentivizes people to do something when they would otherwise be doing something else. That is, money incentivizes people to join and enrich a written dialogue.

Perhaps you find the dialogue created by the Voice and the Review frivolous or even harmful; that’s also fine. But do these budget cuts stop the Voice and the Review from circulating ideas all across campus? No, not at all — and that’s why they scare me. By specifically cutting back on stipends, you cheapen the conversation by allowing fewer types of folks to participate in it, while letting it linger in its moribund state, a campus-wide echo chamber. At that point, I’d rather gut the papers entirely.

SFC folks, I respect you. I like that you listen to the concerns of the student body. But I cannot stand for letting these budget cuts cheapen the only paid journalistic avenues for communication on campus. And frankly, if your organization, as an instrument of the College, is willing to let the budgets for once-a-semester events go untouched — I’m talking Solarity — while reducing the quality of our campus-wide discourse, I think you need to straighten out your priorities.

–Sam Morrow

Associate Editor, Wilder Voice