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Student union makes unanimous decision to set Fulcrum free

Originally published Jan. 13, 2004

After months of planning and years of positioning, the University of Ottawa’s English language student newspaper has won its independence. 

Editors of the Fulcrum watched nervously as the student union Board of Administration voted unanimously, with one abstention, on Jan. 9 to transfer ownership of the paper to the newly created Fulcrum Publishing Society (FPS) as of May 1, 2005.

“I was shocked it passed like that,” said Mary Cummins, editor-in-chief, as Fulcrum staff gathered at a bar to celebrate, “because the feedback I got before the meeting was telling me that they weren’t for it.” 

The 10,000-circulation, weekly publication sought separation from the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) to protect its journalistic integrity and take on legal responsibility for its content and finances, production manager Marcus McCann told the BOA.

“The SFUO-Fulcrum relationship, as it stands, is flawed,” McCann said.

“The current situation, where the paper reports on the student union’s activities and the student union signs editors’ and other staff’s paycheques, creates an ‘inherent conflict-of-interest, ‘ “ he explained.

To help the FPS get on its feet, the SFUO will buy $40,000 of advertising credit in the paper, about three years’ worth, as part of the autonomy agreement. The paper has agreed to purchase its assets from the SFUO.

While a new Board of Directors elected by students will govern the FPS, it will continue to collect the paper’s $2.64 per semester student levy and operate out of the same building. If the Fulcrum goes bankrupt or breaches the agreement, its assets will revert back to the student union. 

Phil Laliberté, president of the SFUO, said at the meeting he had been working with the Fulcrum to hammer out the autonomy agreement since last summer. 

“In the end, no one gets the short end of the stick, the Fulcrum gets to survive as the SFUO does,” Laliberté said. “I think it’s a fair agreement.”

After lawyers review the autonomy agreement, it will return to the BOA for final ratification.

Board members raised concerns about the Fulcrum’s financial planning, liability issues and editorial content, during the one hour and 20 minutes of discussions leading up to the vote. Editors assured the board the hiring of a business manager was already increasing ad revenue and autonomy would encourage them to put out an even better paper. 

The Fulcrum’s records show the paper was interested in autonomy as early as 1978. In the 90s, the paper created a publishing board and won its own student levy.

The SFUO’s decision means the Fulcrum, which dates back to 1942, will no longer be one of Canada’s largest non-autonomous student newspapers. 

Every year, student papers on campuses across the country win or attempt to gain independence.

Students at the University of Nothern British Columbia in Prince George voted to separate Over the Edge from their student union in a November 2004 referendum. 

Since the Gateway at the University of Alberta in Edmonton won its autonomy referendum in 2002, the paper has been more innovative commercially and independent editorially, said business manager Don Iveson. 

“Editorially, I think the level of care and attention is higher because of that ability,” noted Iveson.

Iveson’s advice to the Fulcrum: “baby steps. Don’t try to set everything overnight.”  

Fun Facts about this article

-Stephen Hui who was CUP’s National Bureau Chief from May 2004 to April 2005, is now an author he is set to release a travel novel entitled Destination Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia in May. 

-Marcus McCann is now an Employment & Human Rights Lawyer, he has also published numerous novels.

-Mary Cummins is a deputy registrar at the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority