The Sunflower News of Wichita State University will receive its funding next year, according to WSU President Don Beggs’ memorandum dated April 25 and received by the newspaper May 1.
However, the task force charged with evaluating the operations of the free press on WSU’s campus is still in existence.
It met on Monday.
At 8:30 a.m., the founder of the task force, WSU Vice President for Campus Life and University Relations Ron Kopita, said the meeting was closed and The Sunflower News could not cover this news event.
I was on the phone with legal counsel and open meetings law experts trying to determine if having this meeting as a closed session was actually legal.
Then at 11:30 a.m. Kopita changed his mind and made the meeting open to the public.
The meeting was quite uneventful. It was basically a meeting to plan a meeting, the next of which won’t take place until August. All that transpired is everyone voiced questions to which they would like the task force to find answers.
I will no longer be editor-in-chief next August as my term as newspaper leader ends next week, so it will be the task of the new editor-in-chief and staff to closely monitor the situation, which I feel is still quite volatile.
My life has revolved around The Sunflower News for an entire year. I have put in nearly 60 hours a week when I am paid for only 30, so I am deeply invested in its continued, unfettered existence, even if I no longer have any true stake in the actions the newspaper and its staff takes.
I worry what this task force will actually do.
The journalism faculty on the task force made certain that anything dealing with content, which would translate into illegal First Amendment violations, was not going to be discussed and only specific operations would be focused on.
However, as it was editorialized in The Sunflower News on Monday, the mere existence of this task force concerns me greatly because of the precedent it could set for The Sunflower News.
Even though The Sunflower News’ money is not being withheld this year, what about coming years?
This task force will have an entire year to gain validity, and then when next year’s budget hearings and proposals come around, who’s to say the task force won’t make a recommendation that adversely affects the funding of The Sunflower News?
Such occurrences may seem unlikely to some, but no one can say for certain what will transpire.
That is a very serious cause for concern.
Without the funding received from the university via student fees dollars, the life of The Sunflower News could be quickly extinguished. The newspaper simply is not in a fiscal position to be entirely self-sufficient.
Ideally such a goal should be strived for, and I think it is the general consensus of all those involved with the newspaper that self-sufficiency is the best recipe for longevity of the campus free press due to the inherent adversarial relationship with governing bodies and newspapers.
I wish the best for the new newspaper administration, and I hope they closely watch this task force and be prepared to stand up for their First Amendment rights, both as journalist and non-journalists, because such liberties are some of the most sacred our country has.