The University of South Dakota’s Student Publication Board held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss the recent newspaper theft.
Late Oct. 31, Volante staff members noticed copies of the paper missing from several locations on campus. University faculty and police were alerted that same night, and by the next morning, the newspapers had been returned.
According to Chuck Baldwin, journalist-in-residence and Volante adviser, the number of stolen newspapers was at least 950, which constituted 20 percent of The Volante’s entire weekly circulation.
“The duty of the board is to protect the integrity of The Volante,” board president Eric Davis said. “If you disagree with something The Volante writes, the appropriate remedy is not to steal the paper.”
Jack Marsh, president of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, said the theft was significant in several ways: first, that a crime occurred; second, that it was a violation of student rights; and third, that it was a business loss.
“It was an attempt to muzzle or somehow punish The Volante,” Marsh said. “This is an extremely serious matter, not just a prank.”
Marsh proposed a motion that the board would refrain from pursuing immediate legal action, instead lodging an official complaint with the university’s Office of Students’ Rights and Responsibilities.
“Speaking for myself, I don’t want to saddle any undergraduate students with permanent criminal records,” he said.
Marsh proposed that in place of becoming a legal suit, the board should opt to turn the situation into a “teaching moment for this campus, and especially for the students involved.”
The motion was seconded by Michelle VanMaanen, chair of the Contemporary Media & Journalism department, who agreed with Marsh’s assertion that the situation could be a great learning experience for the university.
“There is a great lack of understanding in how to respond when an incident takes place that may shine a negative light on an organization,” VanMaanen said.
Marsh said the monetary loss of the stolen newspapers was valued between $1,500-$4,000, and that, as part of his motion, any individuals and organizations “accepting responsibility” for the theft would be required to reimburse The Volante for the “business interruption.” By doing so, those accepting responsibility would be acknowledging that “the theft was an infringement on the First Amendment free press rights granted to The Volante by the University of South Dakota.”
During the board meeting, it was made clear that one of the thefts was recorded by video surveillance cameras, and the footage had been used to identify two USD students.
Kimberly Grieve, dean of students, said she was concerned with the financial repercussions for these students.
“The payment is going to be the most difficult, because they’re college students, and so far there are only two of them,” Grieve said.
Marsh was adamant about students accepting responsibility.
“They may be college students, but they’re adults,” he said.
The board voted unanimously to pass the motion, which means the matter will be dealt with by the university and, for now, no legal action will be taken.