Dinlenc withdraws Hoot proposal
Senator Kent Dinlenc '19 withdrew a proposal to decharter The Hoot after a wave of backlash.
Sustainability Committee Chair Kent Dinlenc ’19 rescinded his April 7 proposal to decharter The Brandeis Hoot on Thursday night. A petition opposing the proposal had gathered 518 individual and 65 club signatures over the course of the week. In a letter posted in the MyDeis Facebook groups, Dinlenc maintained that the Justice and The Hoot should be merged, but acknowledged the backlash his proposal had generated.
Dinlenc had cited duality of purpose as the justification for removing The Hoot’s chartered club status. Duality of purpose, a concept that appears in Section 2 of Article VIII of the Union Bylaws, stipulates that a proposed club must not “duplicate the purpose or goals of an existing club,” and must not have a “substantively” similar “impact and student appeal” as an existing club. But Dinlenc said his real motivation was sustainability. Per the proposal, Dinlenc believes having two newspapers is “unnecessary and unsustainable,” adding that “we are essentially the 0.1% who can afford to waste resources.” In the proposal, Dinlenc also claimed The Hoot is a waste of Allocations Board funding, noting that their funding has remained steady as the Justice’s decreased steadily since 2014.
The Hoot editorial board began circulating a petition in response to the proposal on April 8. Addressing “members of the Brandeis Community,” the petition told all interested parties to sign their names, wear maroon or red on Friday, April 12, and attend the Senate meeting on April 14. The Hoot editorial board called the paper its “livelihood, [its] pride and joy and a family of dozens — if not hundreds — of current students and alumni.”
The clubs that signed the petition were varied; sports teams, media organizations, cultural clubs and Greek life chapters filled out the list. Multiple student clubs, such as Brandeis Liquid Latex and the Brandeis Bagel, expressed their support with statements on Facebook.
In addition to the current student response, Hoot alumni circulated an open letter urging the Senate to vote down the motion to de-charter. The alumni argued that de-chartering the paper would harm Brandeis students’ chances of entering the journalism industry and suppress campus free speech.
“Not only would decommissioning The Hoot stifle freedom of speech and much-needed transparency on campus, but it would actively discourage new students from pursuing this important and necessary tradition of civic activism,” the Hoot alumni letter said.
The open letter was signed by 61 alumni of The Hoot, ranging from class years ’05 to ’18. The signers included Hoot founders Igor Pedan ’05 and Leslie (Pazan) Libra ’05. 93 non-Hoot alumni signed the letter, including former Justice editors, spanning from class years ’98 to ’18.
In an interview with the Justice on April 11, Celia Young ’21, The Hoot’s news editor, expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support. “I’ve been close to tears this entire week with the amount of people who had been signing. … I almost broke down. For a long time, I assumed no one really cared about what I did, even though I cared about it so much. It’s been one of the best, most inspiring moments of my entire Brandeis career,” she said. She noted that at least one Hoot alumnus from out of state had offered to travel to the University for the sole purpose of attending the April 14 Senate meeting. “I have met people here at The Hoot that I would take a bullet for,” Young asserted. “I would take a bullet for this club.” Young later clarified that she meant a non-lethal bullet.
Young also pushed back against Dinlenc’s key legal argument for the proposal — duality of purpose. Young said in the same interview that Dinlenc’s grounds for invoking duality of purpose were moot, as “generations of Union members have been okay with us existing, even with that clause on the books … [they] have either agreed that we do not violate duality of purpose or if we do, we’re important enough that we need to stay.”
By the evening of April 10, Dinlenc was expressing doubt about his proposal due to the backlash he had received. “I’m not an idiot,” he said. “If 14 percent of the student body is like, “No!”, okay, I’m not going to pursue it any longer,” he told the Justice. “If they’re rallying this hard against it, am I really that dumb, guys?” Dinlenc noted that although a de-chartering motion can be voted on the day it is brought to the floor of the Senate, he “wanted to give people a week to digest and propose counter-arguments and show opposition to this. … I’m trying to be as diplomatic as possible,” he said.
Duality of Purpose
Dinlenc argued that the existence of The Hoot violates the duality of purpose clause. Rules Committee Chair Jake Rong ’21 said in an interview with the Justice that he gauges “how serious a club is” when determining if it violates duality of purpose.
Rong stated that The Hoot is a serious club because it “has shown that it has a real base of members who do really commit to what the club does.” Furthermore, he said, “the fact that it’s been able to continue putting out consistent weekly issues for almost 15 years is something that we should all recognize.” The response from alumni and current students generated by the proposal is “something that every senator, including myself, should definitely acknowledge and factor into consideration when we make our final decisions on whether Senator Dinlenc’s proposal has legitimacy,” Rong asserted.
When assessing whether a duality of purpose exists between the two campus newspapers, Rong said, he looks at them side by side. “Even if the news articles are often covering the same news,” Rong stated, he does not see “that same level of repetition necessarily from the opinion or forum writers.”
“We can’t deny that [the Justice] and The Hoot definitely published different articles that contributed to the community in different ways. There’s definitely a lot of similarity … but I also think that there are definitely things that fall outside that category,” he said. The Hoot compiled a summary of both papers’ news coverage this semester; they concluded that more than two-thirds of the papers’ coverage did not overlap.
Rong told the Justice that Dinlenc’s assessment of the two papers relied mainly on his comparison of the clubs’ constitutions. Rong saw a “degree of validity” in Dinlenc’s argument of duality of purpose from “comparing the constitutions of the papers.” But while the constitutions may be similar, Rong noted, that does not mean that the two papers violate the duality of purpose clause. “I’m sure there are a lot of parts of the different club constitutions that … do appear to be similar. But I also think, from my perspective on Club Support, that there is more to duality of purpose than just the constitutions.”
Normally, the Senate will de-charter clubs for infractions like “not submit[ting] … [anti-hazing] renewal forms,” or will deny them probationary status because of duality of purpose, according to Rong. To his knowledge, he said, the Senate has “never brought a club back that was already approved just to de-charter it or even put its accreditation in question just because of … violating duality of purpose.”
Whether or not the bylaws support Dinlenc’s argument is “open for debate,” Rong said. “If any club violates any of the bylaws, the Senate has authority to revoke its accreditation. … It is permitted later on in the language for the Senate to do what [Dinlenc] is proposing to do.” Thus, he asserted, “in theory, revoking the Hoot’s accreditation is certainly within the Senate’s authority.” Rong believes that “the notion of a club to be eligible for accreditation not replicating an existing club applies during both the prospective stage and the existing stage.”
None of the language in Article VIII, however, mentions duality of purpose between two established clubs. The language of this article is meant to stop duality of purpose from occurring by assessing prospective clubs, which is why Rong said this case was “difficult.” Because The Hoot “already exists,” he said, “the questions that we would usually use to evaluate a club’s eligibility for accreditation have to be completely retailored.”
Duality of purpose was a subject of contentious debate within last year’s Senate, particularly in regard to the Jewish Feminist Association of Brandeis. In a message to the Justice, former Club Support Committee Chair Tal Richtman ’19 wrote that the previous discussion surrounding duality of purpose was “regarding duality of purpose with other department[s] and services on campus.” In Section 4 of the same article, the bylaws state that “any club which duplicates the purpose or goals of an existing academic department or other campus resource in terms of operations, impact, and student appeal is ineligible to become or remain a chartered club; otherwise, clubs shall have the right to become or remain chartered clubs, so long as they remain accredited.”
Increasing sustainability was part of Dinlenc’s original motivation in proposing the decharter motion. In a document that laid out his main points, titled “Hoot De-Chartering Proposal TL;DR,” Dinlenc said continuing to print both The Hoot and the Justice was “costly financially and environmentally.”
Graphic Developments, a printing company in Hanover, Massachusetts, prints both campus newspapers, according to Justice Editor-in-Chief Avraham Penso ’20 and Hoot Editor-in-Chief Sarah Terrazano ’19. Mike Sullivan, a manager at the company, told the Justice in an April 9 phone interview that Graphic Developments prints exclusively with recycled paper. Dinlenc said in an April 10 interview with the Justice that he did not think The Hoot using recycled paper altered the sustainability argument significantly. “It’s still paper being used; that recycled paper could be used for something else,” he said.
Roland Blanding ’21, a representative to the Allocations Board who spoke to the Justice on its behalf, was critical of Dinlenc’s proposal from a sustainability and financial perspective. Blanding explained that the print circulation of the campus papers is determined by mandatory reporting to A-Board. Both the Justice and The Hoot must report trends in the number of papers taken from each location, he said. “A-board is actively seeking to make sure that we’re not doing things like wasting money on newspapers that no one picks up. Every single newspaper that people see on campus has been justified in its presence,” Blanding said.
Blanding noted that he thought dechartering The Hoot and splitting the paper’s money among the other clubs would have a “diminished return.” He said based on the dedication of The Hoot’s staff, defunding the newspaper would mean significantly more to those students than “even the aggregate of having four hundred extra dollars to have cupcakes at an event that already has food.”
Hoot editors also disputed Dinlenc’s argument on sustainability on factual grounds. Young said the paper had conducted its own research online on the issue. Citing a 2008 Slate article, Young and Terrazano argued that reading a small circulation newspaper online is less sustainable than reading it in print, due to the power consumption of the computers used. Terrazano said the paper was willing to cut their print copies by 25 percent (from 1000 copies to 750 copies) but only if the Justice was willing to do so as well.
In his letter withdrawing the proposal, Dinlenc wrote, "My objective was never to intentionally upset people — especially this much. To rally a usually-apathetic student body at this capacity is impressive and clearly indicative of something. It’s my job as a senator to listen to my constituents. You have been heard.”
—Editor’s Note: Jake Rong ’21 is a Copy staff member for the Justice.
—Eliana Padwa contributed reporting.