(Editor’s note: The upshot of this is that the situation is not good, but Chance Swaim and the staff of The Sunflower continue fighting the good fight. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to tell people who were not on campus but really wanted to help and he said this: “Thank you! It’s really kept us all going — knowing we’re not alone. Keep writing about this. Tell anyone you think might be interested. Share our stories online. Buy a classified ad. Buy a T-shirt. Keep the pressure on. If a tree falls in the forest, I want everyone to hear.”
The T-shirt link works. I just bought mine. It’s a bit odd in terms of payment, in that you have to enter your own invoice (just include N/A or T-shirt under invoice) and your own payment ($20 for the shirt plus $5 for mailing it), but hang in there. It’s for a good cause. At the bottom of the post is some additional contact information for WSU President John Bardo to make your voice heard if you so wish.)
Chance Swaim, the editor-in-chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State, checked in the other day with a few updates about the struggle the paper has continued to face. Swaim has been knocked around by three things I have also dealt with and hated: A paper that is in financial trouble, a student government that is being absurd and a bad back:
“Sorry it’s taken so long to respond,” he wrote in his email. “I’ve been fighting the flu and back pain, along with everything else…”
The “everything else” included the student government meeting in a closed session where it cut the paper’s funding from $105,000 to $55,000 for the upcoming year. The paper, and others media outlets, protested both the cut and the secrecy in which it occurred, leading university President John Bardo to ask the fee committee to redo its work in an open session. In response to this, SGA President Paige Hungate called Bardo’s actions “the pinnacle of cowardice.”
Since we last left our intrepid journalists, the fee committee met in public and revised its recommendations.
“We gave a supplemental presentation,” Swaim said in his email. “During my portion of the presentation, I emphasized The Sunflower’s mission is to cover WSU campus news and our mission is not to make money from advertisements. We shouldn’t have to rely on advertisements to sustain. We asked for the amount we need to run the paper sustainably. To continue our mission, we need student fees.”
The committee recommended that the paper receive $80,000 ($75,000 for operations and $5,000 for equipment). According to Swaim and published reports, Vice President Teri Hall, who oversaw the closed-door session and who argued this shouldn’t be done in public in the first place, was one of the administrators who abstained from the vote.
“When it came to funding The Sunflower, the two student senators on the committee said they wanted to increase our funding from $75,000 (+5,000 for equipment), which was a number sort of thrown out as the highest Paige Hungate would go,” Swaim wrote. “She said she thought they had good reasons to cut us to $50,000 (+5,000). Her cabinet voted with her. the senators voted against the cut. The administrators abstained.”
(Side note: I can’t find anything in any coverage or any official documents what the “good reasons to cut” were. My best guess is that Hungate came up with them and discussed them during the closed-door session, but did not reveal them publicly. Yet another reason why open meetings matter.)
In the previous iteration of the committee’s recommendations, the student affairs office (which Hall heads) received an increase to its funding while the paper took a giant cut. At the time, Swaim noted that all of the other groups funded in the same manner as The Sunflower were only a few percentage points up or down, as opposed to the 45-50 percent cut to the paper. That didn’t really change in the second run at this:
“Student Affairs still got its increase, but it swept money from its reserve accounts to free up $75,000 extra…” Swaim said. “I think it’s atrocious that student affairs and SGA lack the leadership skills to properly fund groups that have been on campus and funded through student fees for decades. Particularly insulting is the way they pretend there have to be cuts this year, when the amount of student fees collected has increased. Of course their budgets are important to them and seen untouchable. But we were cut like crazy. All of the fixed line items were awarded within 1.5 percent of the amounts they requested, except us. We were awarded right around half.”
In the mean time, the WSU faculty senate passed a resolution in support of The Sunflower, which called for Bardo to restore the paper to its full funding and noted “the proposed budget cut is intimidation of free student press.” (It’s unclear of that meant the $153,000 it received a few years back before it received its first whack or the $105,000 it was dealing with this year.) Hungate dismissed the concerns of the faculty, saying “it’s really not the faculty’s place to tell student government how to allocate student fees.”
(Side note: I can’t escape this overwhelming desire to unpack everything Paige Hungate has said and done to this point as part of a “This is why government needs a Fourth Estate check on it” and “This is why these people should not have say over news outlet funding” post. I’m not into attacking students but she’s really pulling a “Bob Murray” in terms of forcing my hand here in her approach to this situation. I wonder if John Oliver rents out Mr. Nutterbutter.)
The budget now goes back to the student senate for a vote. Swaim said the senate can’t change the amount the committee recommended, but it can send the whole budget back to the committee again to reconsider it all. If the senate approves the budget, it will go to Bardo for his consideration.
“Really, our only hope is that President John Bardo restores our amount,” Swaim said.
Unless Bardo restores the funding, Swaim said the publication would likely devolve and become less valuable to the students in the newsroom and on the campus of WSU.
“Student jobs lost. Smaller print papers. Less content. Less money to travel to, say, the NCAA tournament, or national conferences to earn recognition for our university. That’s the first year,” he said. “Two years in, cut printing entirely. Three years with that funding level and the paper would be flat broke, editorially snuffed, and a complete joke — an inelegant death for a 123 year old student-run publication.”
If you think this situation is appalling, please contact the one person left who can stop this from happening: John Bardo. You can email him here to thank him for a commitment to the First Amendment and ask him to put his money where his mouth is and push the funding back up to where it belongs: $153,000. Heck, if you feel like really annoying the student government, ask that it be raised to $253,000, with the $100,000 cut coming directly from whatever budget line funds Hungate’s office. His office number is 316-978-3001 in case you’d like to chat with him.
Make sure that if this tree falls, everyone hears it and knows why.