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Saturday, December 03, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

'The Student Union Will Be Closing in Five Minutes'

I can't say Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2000, was one of those particularly remarkable days that will forever be etched in my memory.

But something interesting, if not shocking, occurred on my way to my 9 a.m. World Civilization class in Knox 20.

I picked up The Spectrum.

Big deal, right? This time it was.

Instead of a lead story on the front page, there was nothing but a vacant white space with a sole paragraph placed in the middle that read:

2/8/00, 12:00 a.m.
Student no exceptions

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Thus began a semester-long battle between The Spectrum and the UB administration.

At the time, I was a freshman and recently promoted to the position of faculty-student relations reporter.

As if to prepare me for what lay in store should I decide to stay on as assistant campus news editor for the following year, Campus News Editor Jill Terreri told me of the long nights she spent in the windowless space that is 132 Student Union, laboring over each and every article that passed through her desk. Anything from late-occurring, newsworthy events to sudden computer failures (we were working on stone-age Macs at the time) could set back the production timeline by several hours.

In the editorial in what I am sure was the most highly read issue of The Spectrum that spring, Editor in Chief Beena Ahmad and Managing Editors Darius Amos and David Del Bello described being chased out of the Student Union by University Police "like thieving jackrabbits fleeing a pack of hounds."

Their crime? Violating Student Union building hours.

According to what University Police Director John Grela described as an "internal memo" issued Feb. 6, 2000, all persons found violating Student Union building hours were to be arrested. This is exactly what happened yet again on the morning of Monday, March 20, at 12:20 a.m.

"The building manager came in and said that it was time to go," stated Ahmad in one of the articles written at the time. "We just needed to put some finishing touches on the paper, and he specifically told us we could 'Take our time.'"

Apparently, that was not the case. The building manager reported the editors to the University Police for violating the Union's building hours, and three officers were sent to arrest them. Del Bello was patted down from head to toe before he, Ahmad and Amos were sent in separate vehicles to a holding cell in Bissell Hall.

"I was the most uncooperative and asked to see a lawyer," Del Bello stated. "But I feel insulted that I was patted down and treated like a criminal. I never knew I was such a dangerous threat."

Dennis Black, vice president of Student Affairs, said The Spectrum needed to complete the paper within "the time constraints placed before them" unless there were cases of "exceptional circumstances." His proposed solution was for The Spectrum to pay Student Union management $20 for every hour they spent in the Student Union past midnight.

Then, as now, there was no way The Spectrum could subsidize every late night it has. Even professional newspapers with the flexibility of a full-time staff - rather than students forced to leave the job every few hours to attend class or study - need to carry on late into the night.

The Spectrum's spring of 2000 was plagued by hearings with the Student Wide Judiciary and head-butting with the Office of Student Affairs, the University Police and Student Union building management. Being that I was only a reporter at the time, I was not in the center of the action, but I looked up to my editors as if they were champions of the constitutional right to a free press.

Not everyone agreed, and I'm not just talking about the university. None of my friends could understand why anyone would give up a Thursday night at Molly's to sit around searching for lost commas and overlooked grammatical errors. Why get paid sweatshop wages and not have time for a second job only to be dragged out in handcuffs?

Surprisingly, the answer is simple: The editors then, as we do now, love to write and love to edit. The Spectrum is the one thing we do at UB in which we can take immediate pride in the fruits of our labor and always try to improve upon.

But even more than that, the editors knew then, as we do now, that approximately 15,000 people are relying on The Spectrum to be available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to provide important news they can't find anywhere else.

In some romantic - okay, maybe na??ve sort of way - I was disappointed that I could not be dragged out of the Union with the people who taught me the art of news writing and initiated me into what I can easily say has been the most definitive aspect of my college experience. The only thing I could do was write the articles that informed UB's student body about its student newspaper's turmoil and hope they would listen and provide much-needed support.

And that is what I'm doing right now.

As managing editor and now four-year veteran of The Spectrum, I can say with firsthand knowledge that had the UB administration not been willing to compromise, the quality of the paper would not be what it is right now. Luckily for us, the university understood our dilemma and was willing to negotiate its stance. Just as luckily, we were in a position to make a stand on behalf of the product we produce and the students we serve.

As I write this article - 12:30 a.m. on a Thursday night - a University Police officer came in because a building manager said our door was open and he wanted to make sure we were okay.



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