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Scrappy College Tabloid Is No Stranger to Controversy

July 07, 1991|LETA LYNDE and DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"This is vivisection," the boldfaced three-inch headline proclaimed over a photo of a monkey strapped spread-eagled to a lattice of metal bars.

In the accompanying front-page article, Louis Cyon, editor of the Union, Cal State Long Beach's alternative newspaper, vigorously attacked a CSULB psychology professor, calling him a "notorious vivisectionist" and "a cruel human being."

That edition of the newspaper was the beginning of a debate between Cyon, the founder of a campus animal-rights organization, and a group of psychology professors and students who routinely use animals in their research.

It is one of the many running battles the scrappy 16-page tabloid has had with its readers since 1977, when it was founded by a group of dissident writers and editors who left the 40-year-old campus newspaper, the Daily Forty-Niner. They began the Union to give non-journalism students a chance to express their views.

Unlike the Forty-Niner, which is published by the university's journalism department and supported by advertising, most of the Union's annual $23,000 budget comes from student fees appropriated by the student government.

In 1986, its staff drew criticism for publishing a page of stick figures engaged in sex acts. A year later, bothered by the newspaper's content and style, the Associated Student Senate voted to cut the newspaper's budget in half.

And three years ago, the paper virtually stopped publishing after student government leaders eliminated its funding, removed all computers and telephones, canceled printing contracts and announced that the Union's office was available for use by other student groups.

The edition that caused the reaction was a satirical supplement called the Sexually Frustrated Male Issue, which included a photograph of three semi-nude men and several erotic illustrations. The student government action was later overturned on procedural grounds by a student judiciary committee.

The controversies continued as a succession of new editors, each elected by the student government, maintained the paper's tone while some student leaders and some faculty members moaned.

"I would like to see the Union editors clean it up and take responsibility for the paper," said Christina Speaker, who recently ended her term as Associated Student Senate president. "The student body doesn't like it."

In response to the Union's attack on campus vivisectionists, Speaker said she considered asking the student government to withdraw the paper's funding. "I was going to veto the Union's funding and not give them any more money. But I said 'no', that's not what I want to do. I'm going to give them the money, but I want to clean up the process."

She said she does not want to censor the paper but to provide professional accountability. The paper is governed by a publications board that includes representatives from the Union's staff, the associated student government, a student at large and the faculty adviser.

"The Union has failed to be a forum," said Ben Cunningham, a journalism professor and publisher of the Daily Forty-Niner. "They've failed to present both sides of the issues. You're dealing with juvenile minds down there."

Countered Cyon: "I think all students use (the Union) . . . for their own personal views. It's every student's right. (All) students can voice their minds here."

Members of the Union's staff study a wide variety of subjects on campus, not just journalism or English. For example, Cyon, 27, graduated this year with a degree in art.

By contrast, Daily Forty-Niner editors are journalism majors selected each semester by a committee of students and faculty members.

Debbie Arrington, the Union's first managing editor, said: "The thing about the Union is that it is alive. It reflects the personalities of the students involved, whereas the Forty-Niner reflects the (journalism) department."

University President Curtis L. McCray said he considers the Union a valid learning tool that gives students a chance to express themselves without the burden of academic discipline. "The more the campus has to offer, the better," he said.

Some former students acknowledge that there was not always an opportunity for them to present their opinions in the Daily Forty-Niner. Once published by the Associated Students, the paper was taken over by the journalism department after student government leaders voted to discontinue it because of coverage they regarded critical of student government.

Editors at the Daily Forty-Niner say that times have changed. While most articles are still written by journalism majors, the paper now also accepts material from non-journalism students, professors, administrators and campus employees.

"Cartoons, letters and columns can be submitted to the Forty-Niner by anyone," Cunningham said, "but it's the editor's decision whether to run (them) or not."

At the Union, meanwhile, the battle continues.

After being assailed for his writings on vivisection, Cyon recently published what he called a "politically correct" edition of the Union, a satirical jab at the sensitivities of what he described as an "overreactive (campus) community."

Stories and poems in the issue, which he labeled "the extremely sensitive, the unbiased, the unprovocative (edition)," covered such topics as the weather, health food and bicycle riding. The "non-offensive" material, Cyon wrote, represented a departure from the Union's "regular naughty format."

In a sarcastic apology on the second page of the paper, Cyon published the words, "I'm sorry, We're sorry," repeatedly for an entire quarter of the page.

The Union continues to reflect the views and personalities of new writers and editors who pass through its offices. David Nagel, who takes over as editor in September, said he wants to devote the Union's pages to the pursuit of serious literature.

"Literature, literature, literature," Nagel said.

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