OSA calls for A-T reform

Haley Walters

UW Oshkosh OSA staff members discussed the Advance-Titan’s debt at the OSA Assembly meeting on Tuesday evening.
[/media-credit] UW Oshkosh OSA staff members discussed the Advance-Titan’s debt at the OSA Assembly meeting on Tuesday evening.

The UW Oshkosh Student Association is calling for the resignation of the Advance-Titan adviser citing the paper’s long-term debt and questionable leadership, but Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said he will not enforce the resolution if it passes next week. The A-T has been in debt since 2009 despite multiple attempts by adviser Vince Filak and staff members to generate more revenue. The paper is currently $75,129.85 in debt. OSA became aware of the A-T’s financial situation two years ago and has tried to remedy the situation through proposed legislation. OSA Vice President Graham Sparks and Chief of Staff Reginald Parson co-authored the resolution. “I decided to write this because of the future of the A-T and I believe it’s time for new leadership,” Parson said. “It doesn’t matter what organization it is. When an organization is in this much financial strain like this, it looks to its leader and asks, ‘What have you done to remediate the situation?’ And it seems like over the years it’s gotten worse and worse and worse.” Filak said the paper’s debt was unavoidable, given the loss of national advertising dollars as focus shifted away from print ads during the recession in the late 2000’s. He said the paper couldn’t cut costs fast enough to compensate for the ad revenue that decreased by tens of thousands every year. “It’s not an issue of financial mismanagement; we don’t have any money to manage, and we have been speaking about that repeatedly since these gentlemen [Sparks and Parson] were probably in junior high,” Filak said. “It’s gotten to a point where for five, six years I’ve been going to [Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs] Petra [Roter], and Petra has been going with me to these different organizations saying ‘Guys, this is going to get worse. The model is broken. We need some help.’ And their answer has always been, ‘No, just go sell more ads.’ Well, that’s like saying, ‘Go door-to-door and sell encyclopedias.’ It doesn’t work that way anymore.” Sparks said despite Filak’s efforts, the adviser is fiscally responsible for the paper, and allowing debt to accumulate for six years was fiscally irresponsible. “Things can’t remain the same on [the A-T’s] end and then expect the University to subsidize some of this fiscal management,” Sparks said. Parson said he and Sparks are acting in the paper’s best interest and wants to ensure its longevity with this resolution. “We care about the interests of the students,” Parson said. “The ideal leader would have to be a change agent and have to be transparent in the process going forward.” During an OSA Senate meeting on Tuesday, representatives expressed further concern over Filak’s “unprofessional and combative attitude” towards OSA and A-T staff members, specifically his boundless use of power, none of which was mentioned in the resolution Leavitt said he will not support. Leavitt said OSA is free to author recommendations for anything they’d like, but the University will not be considering their input when it comes to new leadership for the A-T. “We don’t make personnel decisions based upon resolutions or votes of no confidence,” Leavitt said. “It’s a completely separate process. Any personnel action is always taken independently of what a governing body would suggest through a process of evaluation and remediation.” Sparks said he is disappointed with the Chancellor’s decision to rule out OSA’s opinion before they have had a chance to vote on the resolution. “If this resolution were to pass and he doesn’t take our recommendations, I question his willingness to listen to the student voice,” Sparks said. “If he has made his decision clear before us voting on it, I guess that’s how he wants to run things.” OSA President Jordan Schettle read aloud three emails during the meeting because he wanted to provide “actual words from individuals outside of OSA,” all affirming the same message: Filak is a poor leader for the newspaper and demonstrates unprofessionalism to the staff. The emails, one written by Filak, another by a anonymous journalism faculty member and a third sent by an anonymous A-T staff member. Schettle read the anonymous email sent by a journalism professor to the senate describing Filak’s recent “We Need the A-T” social media campaign as well as his statements to news media that the individual believed to be inaccurate. Specifically, a video released by Filak detailing a University-proposed payment plan that would require the A-T to pay back its debt in installments. According to the email, the University rescinded this plan after further talks with A-T representatives before the video was released. “The publication of this kind of false information under these circumstances rises to a level of reckless regard for the truth, and let’s be frank, would be a fireable offense in any newsroom in America,” the email stated. “There is no question that the department and every member of the department believes the University needs the A-T, but just because something is done in the name of the A-T does not mean that it is justified or acceptable.” Schettle went on to share an email to the senate sent to him by an A-T staff member regarding Filak’s performance as an adviser. “[Filak] is teaching students that everyone is against them,” the email stated. “He is teaching students that it is OK to bash other students. I completely believe that in the classroom Vince is a great teacher; in fact, he is the best teacher I have had in the journalism department; however, as A-T adviser I don’t think he is what the paper needs right now.” An A-T OSA representative will explain the paper’s situation and opinion on the resolution at next week’s Assembly meeting before the resolution is put to a vote. Regardless of the vote, Filak said the only way he will step down as adviser is if the editor-in-chief asks him to. Editor-in-chief Kaitie Knox said she is not interested in a new adviser. “Vince is the best option for the newspaper in terms of his experience, his credibility and his attitude regarding print journalism,” Knox said. “He has saved papers and managed other student newspapers, so I take those factors into consideration when choosing the adviser. Vince has a lot of experience in the writing and editing emphasis, which is what print journalism is. He’s also always to be at the newsroom at any time whether it’s in the afternoon or until one in the morning.” According to his online bio on the UWO website, when Filak studied at UW-Madison he helped the student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, recover from $137,000-worth of debt. Following a closed meeting between Leavitt, journalism faculty and A-T representatives on Tuesday, plans were made to establish differentiated revenue streams with decisions of a payment plan forthcoming. “It was great to have all the parties sit down in one place at one time in the same room and have a great, candid conversation as to how we got to this place and we’re going to move forward,” Leavitt said. Leavitt is calling for a greater degree of cooperation from the paper and University regarding finances. He went on to say he is willing to be flexible when negotiating a payment plan. “That’s not to say we’re going to forgive the debt, that’s important,” Leavitt said. “Over the course of next semester, we’re going to work with the A-T to determine what a reasonable payment schedule might look like.” Leavitt said the University will likely incorporate the A-T into the Titan Readership Program, an initiative adopted by the University to supply various newspapers to the campus every weekday. “This means there will be a stable revenue stream coming from the University, but we’re not supporting the A-T, we’re simply subscribing to the A-T,” Leavitt said. “The students won’t pay [for the subscription], it’s the University that pays for this through its central resources.” A-T news editor Jessica Zemlicka said she is optimistic for the paper’s future and appreciates the University’s support moving forward. “In the meeting, I felt nothing but support from the administration,” Zemlicka said. “They’re willing to work with us and we’re extremely grateful.”