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Student Newspaper, University of Florida Clash Debate Over Newspaper Racks

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Erin Jester and Clare Lennon
Alligator Staff Writers

UF administrators have demanded The Independent Florida Alligator remove 19 of its orange newspaper racks from some of the most visible parts of campus. by Aug. 15. The Alligator is an independent newspaper that serves the UF community. It will be required to use university-owned black modular racks, pay to lease space in them and sign a licensing agreement with the university. On Thursday morning, the Alligator launched its Save the Racks campaign at alligator.org/savetheracks and its Change.org petition.

The beginning of the plan

On July 3 the Alligator received an email from Amy Hass, UF associate vice president, stating the racks must be removed by Aug. 15, one week before the fall semester begins.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said administrators felt the Alligator would not make a decision unless a deadline was set. She said the debate has lasted for years.

"We're trying to move on," she said.

The issue arose during Fall 2009, when administrators proposed to UF's Board of Trustees a rule that would prohibit distribution of all publications on campus unless approved by the UF vice president for business affairs, according to information provided by Alligator attorney Thomas Julin.

The Board approved this Dec. 11, 2009. The change was published but not sent to the Alligator.
Around the same time, a plan was drafted to remove privately owned news racks and to replace them with university-owned modular racks. Publishers who wanted to continue distribution on campus would have to sign a licensing agreement and lease space at $100 per unit in the black university-owned racks each year.

UF notified the Alligator and other publishers of the plan in Fall 2010, after the university bought several of the modular racks and started placing them on campus. Alligator representatives objected, noting the change could hurt distribution and that the lease is an unfair tax on free speech.

Julin said he is concerned by the power of the vice president of business affairs to determine how and where publications may distribute on campus. The rule does not contain clear criteria preventing censorship, which Julin said violates the First Amendment.

Sikes said in an interview that the fee and the content of the licensing agreement are up for negotiation.

The effects of the change

During a July 2011 meeting between Alligator representatives and UF administrators, administrators denied the plan would hurt readership or violate rights, but they allowed the Alligator to conduct an impact study.

The Alligator collected data on the orange branded racks during Fall 2011 and replaced five with university-owned modular racks in Spring 2012 to measure differences in distribution.

At the end of the Spring semester, the Alligator presented its data to retired professor David Denslow at the UF Bureau of Economic and Business Research and asked him to determine if the change to modular racks would negatively impact distribution.

On July 3, before Denslow had finished his analysis, UF advised the Alligator it would continue its plan to replace 19 orange news racks with university-owned modular racks.

"We're disappointed that the university has been unwilling to wait for the results of a serious study of the actions it proposes," Julin said.

Sikes said the Alligator is welcome to bring the idea of more studies to the table, but the Aug. 15 deadline stands.

Sikes pointed out that other college campuses have set up modular news racks, and the Alligator's readership might be suffering, regardless of the racks, because of changes to the news industry.

The university has offered to waive the yearly $100 charge for each modular rack unit for the Alligator for the first three years of use.

The licensing agreement, however, would stand. Alligator business manager Patricia Carey said she contacted several other publications that distribute on campus to ask about the licensing agreement. Those publications had not received one.

The university's stance now

University officials have cited aesthetics -- namely, lines of different news racks -- and safety as the reasons for the change. Sikes said the orange Alligator news racks could become dangerous during a hurricane, and it costs the university money to pick up each rack before a serious storm.

Carey said she has offered to have the Alligator pick up the racks if needed or weigh them down in case of wind.

The orange racks must go, Sikes said, but the university is willing to work with the Alligator.

"The door is open," she said.

Julin, however, received an email from UF associate vice president Amy Hass on July 12 that indicated otherwise.

"You are correct that my [previous] email reflected [the vice president of Business Affiars'] final decision to move forward with the modular program," she wrote. "I can also confirm that the University does not have an administrative process to appeal or review the decision of the Vice President."

Contact Erin Jester at ejester@alligator.org. Contact Clare Lennon at clennon@alligator.org.