“This cut is tied to our coverage.” Wichita State University moves one step closer to gutting its student newspaper

(Editor’s note: The situation at Wichita State University, in which the student government is cutting funding to the student newspaper, The Sunflower, continues to get worse. After a student senate vote last week, there is only one thing standing between The Sunflower and draconian budget cuts: The president of the university, John Bardo.

EIC Chance Swaim said that sharing the message made sure that, “If a tree falls in the forest, I want everyone to hear.” Make sure people hear it loud and clear.)

The student senate voted last week to approve the fee committee’s proposed budget, meaning The Sunflower will see its university support sink from $158,000 a few years back to $80,000 next year. The vote was 21-18, with the winning side needing exactly 21 votes or more to move forward. The university continues to insist this has “nothing to do” with the coverage the newspaper has done over the years regarding shady dealings at WSU.

EIC Chance Swaim doesn’t quite see it that way:

“Let’s put aside all of the reasons this cut is tied to our coverage of back-door dealings between the administration and private industry, suspicious resignations of university officials with massive payoffs attached to non-disclosure agreements, inflated enrollment numbers used to make the Innovation Campus concept appear like it’s working — not to mention the dysfunction in SGA,” he said in an email late last week. “The decision to make The Sunflower more reliant on advertising money is absolutely a content decision being imposed on The Sunflower.

(You should really, really read this piece, which is basically a running timeline of the incredible coverage The Sunflower provided on the school’s false-front projects and the attempts the U made to smack the paper around as a result of it.)

Sunflower adviser Amy DeVault, who also teaches journalism at WSU, stated in a letter to the editor that she was “beyond disheartened” at student government’s decision to cut the funding. However, it’s clear from everything her paper has published that this was a done deal, complete with window dressing.

The staff was so confident the paper was about to get screwed over, that it had built a special “look at how screwed up this is” edition of The Sunflower. It was a four-page paper, with almost no content and a giant collection of advertising. Here’s the front page:

Sunflower Front

“Thursday’s print paper was meant to illustrate the absurdity of expecting The Sunflower to rely on advertisements as the primary source of funding for the student newspaper,”  Swaim wrote. “Wichita State is a commuter school. It doesn’t make business sense to report on Wichita State if we’re trying to appeal to advertisers in Wichita’s market. We would necessarily move our reporting away from Wichita State and its community.”

Swaim said he believes this is precisely what a lot of administrators want, from SGA President Paige Hungate, who has been at this middle of this budget cut, to Vice Chancellor Teri Hall, who saw her area’s budget swell by thousands of dollars in the new budget the SGA passed.

Even WSU President John Bardo, who came out in favor of a second, public edition of the fee committee meeting, has been resolutely silent about his opinion on the cuts.

“There’s been a lot of nonsense said throughout this entire ordeal by Hall and Hungate and stony silence from the prime movers of this whole thing,” Swaim wrote. “Militarizing our lack of advertising revenue against us started in my interview about conflicts of interest on Innovation Campus with Lou Heldman, a former publisher of The Wichita Eagle who should know better and who later called me ‘damaged goods’ in front of two young reporters, Andy Schlapp, and David Moses, who said in a different meeting that ‘in an ideal world, we would have a student newspaper that didn’t receive any funding, support, or any type of contribution from the institution. It would all be from private sources, in an ideal world.’ I hope people don’t lose sight of that. Hungate and Hall have been the public faces of these cuts, but they didn’t cook this up themselves.”

If you look at the breakout box of what was funded and at what level, it is extremely difficult to justify the cut The Sunflower took. If everyone took a whack, you think, “Well, we need to take our whack as well.” However, funding went up in some cases or was within a single percentage point of what certain groups requested. This is not to disparage any of the groups that got money, but I have a hard time imagining that they’re more valuable on a campus than a student newspaper would be.

“The Sunflower provides a vital service to Wichita State’s campus,” Swaim said in his email. “It is completely reasonable to expect students to pay around $10 a year for that service. When you look at what student fees have been asked to cover in recent years — a move to a slightly more competitive athletic conference ($340 a student this year), a mandatory membership to the YMCA ($190 a student this year), renovations to the student center (around $5 million in student fees this year), even replacing the turf on the baseball field ($165,000 last year) — it’s dishonest to pretend we don’t have the money to fund the student newspaper. ”


Leave a Reply