Here’s the short version: The administration at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska waited until after a long-time faculty member and student media adviser retired before hitting Doane Student Media (DSM) with a series of budget cuts that will likely kill student media on campus. These publications have shone a light on the various problems on campus, including just recently when administrators used an erroneous copyright claim to try to silence faculty discontent.
If you are in favor of free speech and free press, and you don’t like it when administrators bully people who have the temerity to write accurate, yet unflattering, content, here’s how you can help:
This is university president Jacque Carter, who is at the center of all of this, and has not responded to student media’s request for comment (or mine for that matter).
His phone number is above in the screen capture, so you can call him, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to make your thoughts on this matter known. Please reach out to him and tell him you don’t like the way these cuts are hurting student media.
If you want to learn more before you make that leap, here’s the “long version” of the story:
Student media outlets face a lot of unpleasant things, such as shriveling revenue sources and administrative overreach. When you combine the two, you get a near-fatal situation like the one the media outlets at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska currently face:
Doane Administration has proposed to cut the budget for Doane Student Media (DSM), cutting a specific amount, $5,000, each year. There has been no mention of how many years those cuts will continue, thus the budget cuts will continue indefinitely.
DSM includes student-run media outlets such as the newspaper, the website and the magazine. How the diminished budget will be split up between these has not yet been clarified.
When I first saw the $5,000 figure, I missed the “each year in perpetuity” element, so I was thinking “fundraiser.” However, plugging a exponentially growing hole in a budget isn’t happening with a bake sale or “GoFundMe” site.
This is especially true after the university already punched a giant hole in DSM’s financial boat:
The DSM budget was cut significantly before the beginning of this semester, almost in half. Nathaniel Wilson, assistant professor of Practice in Communication said the budget comes from student fees and advertising.
“Last year, 2019-2020, Doane Student Media (The budget line item for The Owl) spent $45,690.16. That was $42,471.41 from student fees, $2,822.75 from advertising, and $396.00 from “Other Income.” This year, $21,660.54 has been set aside from Student Fees,” Wilson said.
In addition to the cuts, the school is attempting to mandate that student journalists cannot be paid for their work, making the staffers’ lives even more difficult as they choose between important career experience and getting a “Joe job” so they can eat and pay rent.
In a follow-up story, DSM explained that the budget cut Wilson outlined wasn’t going to happen, based on some “clarifications” from the school’s PR department. According to Meaghan Stout, the EIC of both The Owl and Doaneline, DSM is still getting whacked financially.
“The initial recommendation to cut the budget by $5,000 each year and completely cease to pay student-workers has not been changed,” she said in an email. “The only thing that has changed in the amount of money they said we were given for the entire year.”
This maneuver by Doane administrators isn’t a financial “belt-tightening approach” that could make sense in the time of cratering budgets during a pandemic.
It’s more like this:
Stout said she felt the reversal on this year’s cut was a case of Doane administrators “working to cover their asses and (they) only gave us the full amount that we usually receive because of how people reacted to the news.”
“Now that they have given us the full budget, they can still feel justified in cutting our wages and our yearly budget,” Stout added. “They gave us our old budget back, only to slowly take it away again. The budget does not change the fact that student media will fail and fall apart if student workers are not paid.”
According to David Swartzlander, the recently retired former adviser of student media at Doane, the cuts reek of censorship through financial means. An ongoing battle between an inept president and the faculty there had led to multiple stories in the student paper, The Owl, and online at DoaneLine, he said.
“The administration previously had asked me when I was employed to read copy in advance, violating the university’s own policies as spelled out in the student handbook,” Swartzlander said in an email interview. “I knew the administration was unhappy with the way Doane Student Media reported the news about it.”
Swartzlander, who worked at Doane for 22 years, including 12 years as the chairman of the journalism and media department, said university President Jacque Carter had difficulty fundraising for the school, needed a “coach” to help him communicate with the faculty he oversees and played favorites in the hiring of a student dean. As the student media outlets covered all of this, it didn’t make them too popular with Carter, he noted.
“I figured that once I retired, Doane would try some way to limit or remove student media,” he said via email. “Using these budget cuts, though, seems pretty blatant. DSM’s budget is less than $50,000/year. About $3,000 comes from advertising. The rest from student fees passed directly into DSM’s account. But students were never asked if they wanted their student fees to be cut to muzzle student media. Oh, BTW, guess who makes the final recommendation about cuts to the board?”
The administration at Doane isn’t giving anyone an explanation as to why these cuts are necessary, who decided on these cuts, why these amounts were chosen or what it might take to reverse them, Stout said.
“When we reached out for comment and explanation, they replied with ‘decline to comment’ until further notice,” she said in an email. “They still have not made any official statement about the reasoning behind cutting student media. They already cut our budget after our past advisor David Swartzlander retired. To continue cutting every year seems baseless.”
Swartzlander also said he hadn’t heard anyone explain the cut.
“I haven’t heard a rationale. No one that I know has explained how they came upon that figure,” he said. “Or why it is indefinite. To me, it shows that it’s not a matter of cutting a budget, but it’s a punitive cut aimed at ridding the school of student media. Just a few years of a $5,000 cut basically would wipe out DSM.”
Although nobody seems to know what’s going on with the administration, the hope is that making them answer for their actions will lead to at least some kind of movement on the issue.
“I don’t know whether this is set in stone,” Swartzlander said. “Clearly, I hope not because I’m doing interviews with you and FIRE and I’m tweeting about it in an attempt to raise awareness of this issue. I’m hoping that alums will speak up and be heard. Perhaps they will be able to turn it around. I can’t do it alone. What can people do? Write to Doane University. Call. Email. Tell it of your displeasure with this decision.”
So, if you’re now ready to let Jacque Carter know what you think, here’s that screen shot again:
His phone number is above and his email is email@example.com if you prefer to write to him. Please reach out to him and tell him you don’t like the way these cuts are hurting student media.
Student media matters too much for it to go away on the whims of an administrator and with the silence of a “no comment.”