UMCP president weighs in on debate over newspaper

Leaders urge board to reassess policies

October 06, 2001|By Alec MacGillis and Walter F. Roche Jr. | Alec MacGillis and Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

State academic and legislative leaders urged yesterday that the board overseeing the University of Maryland, College Park student newspaper address concerns about the paper's financial situation, particularly the six-figure pay package awarded to the paper's general manager.

C.D. Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland, College Park, said the board of Maryland Media Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs The Diamondback, has an obligation to re-examine its way of doing business.

"This really is an issue for the board of the paper to deal with," Mote said before a meeting of the university system's Board of Regents at the University of Baltimore. "The [newspaper] board really has to worry about its credibility."

Mote's comments were in reaction to an article in The Sun yesterday detailing the bitter debate that has arisen between the paper's board and the UMCP journalism school over Maryland Media's finances.

Journalism school Dean Thomas Kunkel and others have criticized the board for the pay package awarded to Maryland Media's general manager, Michael R. Fribush, who has run the business side of the paper for the past 29 years. Fribush was paid about $180,000 for the fiscal year ending last year. In April, the board voted to award a four-year contract that, by some estimates, could have given him nearly $300,000 in the fourth year.

The board revised the contract in August, to a $145,000 base salary plus incentives, after Adrianne Flynn, a journalism school professor, quit the board to protest the contract signed in April.

$4 million surplus

Kunkel and his colleagues have also criticized Fribush and the board for running up a $4 million surplus at the paper, despite newspaper staffers' complaints of a lack of resources.

Board Chairman Ivan Penn and lawyers for Fribush and the board counter that Fribush earned his compensation by putting the paper on sound financial footing. In a June letter to Mote, Penn, a former Diamondback editor now on leave from a reporting job at The Sun, accused Kunkel of interfering with the paper, which was made independent of the university in 1972.

`Not ... for the president'

Yesterday, Mote said that, on the whole, the dispute was "not something for the president to get involved in." But he did recommend that the paper consider lowering the fees it charges local advertisers as a way to reduce its surplus, which is far higher than that of other large college papers.

"The fees seem awfully high," he said.

Maryland Media received its nonprofit charter from the university system's Board of Regents. Yesterday, regents Chairman Nathan A. Chapman said the board has no plans to try to revoke or revise the charter.

"This is the first we've heard about it," Chapman said. "Our goal is to make sure they have the best paper possible, and to make sure the campus and students are satisfied they have the best voice possible."

`A use for the surplus'

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a University of Maryland alumnus, called the paper's financial situation "surprising" and suggested that The Diamondback's $4 million surplus could be "plowed back into the [journalism school]," though the two are legally independent of each other.

"The University of Maryland has one of the finest journalism schools in the nation," he said. "It oversees a staff that is second to none. It's well-known and puts out a good product. I think the board of directors can find a use for the surplus in the J-school."

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