Wichita State University President John Bardo said a committee that recommends how student fees are allocated should meet again in public “so that the campus and the community know we are committed to the First Amendment and the freedom of speech.”
Teri Hall, vice president for student affairs, read Bardo’s statement aloud at the start of a WSU Student Senate meeting Wednesday.
“His concern was that there should be a free and open debate and dialogue, and that there shouldn’t be any secrets about why decisions were made,” Hall said.
Student senators tabled a discussion of student-fee allocations – including a recommendation to cut funding for the student newspaper – and sent the matter back to the committee for further discussion.
The student fees committee – a group of students and university administrators – met last week behind closed doors, arguing that the group was not subject to open meetings laws. The group likely will reconvene next week, Hall said.
In his statement, Bardo said he thought the committee “acted within the rules of the Kansas Open Meetings Act” when it barred reporters and the public from deliberations. “However, there are normally not constitutional questions regarding fees,” he said.
The Student Government Association recommends student fee allocations to the president, who then presents a proposed budget to the Kansas Board of Regents for approval.
“I think that recommendation will have more credibility if the fee committee reconvenes and holds its deliberations in public,” Bardo said.
Chance Swaim, editor-in-chief of The Sunflower, WSU’s student newspaper, said he was “encouraged” by Bardo’s statement and the decision to open the student fees committee to the public.
However, the president did not recommend changing the proposed budget.
“So I’m not sure how to interpret that at this point,” Swaim said. “But I’m hopeful.”
Several speakers addressed student leaders about the proposed fee allocations Wednesday, including advocates for The Sunflower, Mikrokosmos, the university’s literary journal, and members of competitive engineering teams.
Jose Intriago, a graduate student in English, said cutting funding to The Sunflower “would be a terrible disservice” because the newspaper informs students and holds university leaders accountable.
“It is not meant to whitewash to sell an image. It is there to question,” he said.
Jeffrey Jarman, director of the Elliott School of Communication, said he was “pleased to hear the (committee) deliberations will be made public,” but said some arguments made to justify funding cuts to The Sunflower don’t make sense.
Assuming The Sunflower could sell advertising at the same rate as student newspapers at K-State or KU is “inappropriate,” Jarman said. Businesses in those communities “need student spending in order to survive” and are more likely to advertise in student publications, he said.
The student fees committee recommended cutting The Sunflower’s budget from $105,000 to $55,000. The Sunflower had requested $158,000 in student fees, the amount it had received for several years before a budget cut in 2016.