The University of Kansas (KU) student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, is suing two of the university’s administrators following a hefty budget cut that the staff claims is in response to a May 2014 editorial that criticized the school’s student government, according to the Student Press Law Center.
While The New Hampshire is not cognizant of all the facts of the case and can’t necessarily write with certainty to the validity of the lawsuit, our staff fully supports the Kansan standing up to the university after sensing an injustice.
Many student papers find themselves in a tricky position when it comes to publishing editorial content that criticizes student government, since those entities typically have control over the monetary distribution of student organizations, including student newspapers.
Per the court document, the plaintiffs, respective former and current Kansan editors-in-chief Katie Kutsko and Vicky Diaz-Camacho, claim that the defendants, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and KU Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham, infringed upon their constitutionally protected rights by decreasing funds for decisions regarding editorial content.
The court document states that the KU Student Senate Finance Committee and the Kansan representatives agreed upon cutting the budget by 25 percent (from $2 of student activity funds per enrolled KU student to $1.50) in coordination with the paper’s print reduction from 4 to 2 days per week.
It is worth noting that one Student Finance Committee member who was criticized in the May 2014 editorial, Tyler Childress, allegedly urged the members of the committee to reduce the funding by 50 percent (down to $1 per student—a grand total of $45,000) in the same meeting after he reportedly tied his position on the matter to a “steady decline” in the quality of the Kansan’s editorial content.
That seems reasonable, but the following information raises concern that The New Hampshire feels is reasonable to be reviewed in court.
The document states, “However, after Kansan leaders left the meeting, the Committee took the unusual step of voting to table final passage of the funding bill.” It continues, “On March 25, 2015, the Finance Committee revised the Kansan’s funding back down to $1 per student and voted to send it to the Student Senate. The content of the Kansan was again a topic of discussion.”
Furthermore, another committee member, Emma Halling, was reported to have cited content-based rationale following the meeting that day in an interview with a Kansan reporter, specifically referencing the May 2014 editorial.
Finally, according to the court document, the bill was approved by the KU Student Senate on April 1, 2015.
The Student Press Law Center reported sending a letter to defendant Gray-Little outlining the legal ramifications of such a budget cut with content-based premises on April 7, 2015.
Throughout the rest of that month, several administrators, Kansan representatives, and Student Senate leaders met to discuss reviewing the approved budget further. However, the document states the Student Senate held its final meeting on April 29, 2015 and did not discuss the Kansan fee.
On May 6, 2015, it was reported that Gray-Little had signed off the on the 2015-2016 budget approved by the Student Senate with the $45,000 funding cut.
There is something fishy about all of that.
Furthermore, our staff commends the Kansan plaintiffs for bringing this matter to court and admires their tenacity, resilience and courage to stand up to an entity as powerful as a major state university.
No student newspaper should ever have to censor itself out of the fear of possible backlash from the university. Student papers across the country serve a practical civic purpose and, in the case of the Kansan, are well-worth $1.50 for year-round access to a newspaper that comes out twice per week.
It took guts to challenge the university, and TNH respects that.