The Kansan Editorial Board consists of Vicky Diaz-Camacho, Gage Brock, Kate Miller and Maddy Mikinski. Because Diaz-Camacho is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, her position on the board for this editorial was filled by Candice Tarver.
The University Daily Kansan filed a lawsuit against Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham on Feb. 5 in response to what the Kansan alleges are violations of its First Amendment rights.
The decision to file this lawsuit was not made lightly. As an organization composed of students who attend the University of Kansas, the Kansan has taken this step as the last possible solution to an issue that has been escalating since May 2014.
The Kansan published a strongly-worded editorial written by Mark Johnson, chairman of the Kansan Board of Directors, in May 2014 criticizing the Student Senate election process and calling attention to the fact that the president and vice president did not receive the majority of student votes. On Feb. 27, 2015, the Student Senate Fee Review Committee voted to cut the Kansan’s funding in half. By reducing the student fee from $2 to $1 for each student, the Kansan lost $45,000.
The official reasoning for the funding cut was the Kansan’s reduced print schedule, from four to two days per week. However, Senate member Garrett Farlow said the 2014 editorial was repeatedly referred to during the decision-making process. Farlow reported in a testimony that Morgan Said, student body president at the time, had said the reduction was also an opportunity for the Kansan to “fix its content.”
Other Student Senate members shared similar sentiments. According to the official complaint, Tyler Childress, a Finance Committee member, said March 4, 2015, that the paper’s quality was in a “steady decline.” Emma Halling, another committee member, said on March 25, 2015, that the Kansan could request more funding the following year if it “improved” the quality of its content, and, in an interview with a Kansan reporter, said that some of the Kansan’s coverage “had been really problematic in the past.” Further appeals by Kansan leaders to reinstate the full funding were met with the same reasoning.
Kansan leaders met with University officials on April 1, 2015, to raise the First Amendment concerns this cut would entail. Durham, as vice provost, had to approve the student fees budget before it was sent to the chancellor for final sign-off. Gray-Little had the ability to veto it; on May 6, 2015, she signed off on the Senate’s 2015-16 budget as approved by Student Senate and Durham, which included the funding cut to the Kansan, with full knowledge of what the cuts would mean for the publication.
By using our content as reasoning for reducing our funding, Student Senate is violating the Kansan’s First Amendment rights. By not stopping this funding cut, the chancellor and the University are endorsing these violations, despite the editorial freedom the U.S. Constitution guarantees the Kansan.
Our responsibility to our readers and all people with any interest in the University is to hold those in power accountable. By doing that, the Kansan has been punished with a budget cut that required us to eliminate 13 paid student staff positions. The Kansan has been without a full-time news adviser since the fall, and we are financially unable to hire one as a direct impact of the reduced funding.
The bottom line: This cut has impacted our ability to properly serve our readers, and although we will always strive for excellence in our coverage, less funding makes this more difficult than ever.
Filing this lawsuit is the last step in a drawn-out, exhaustive process. Kansan leaders and board members have made the ramifications of this budget cut clear to many Student Senate leaders and campus administrators, including the chancellor, and no resolution has been made. We hoped it wouldn’t go this far, but we are left with no choice if we aim to effectively serve our readers, as we have done for 112 years.
Here’s what this means for you as a reader: It is our duty to you that the Kansan’s content be unaffected by these legal proceedings. We will continue to produce high-quality, objective journalism regarding the University and Student Senate, as well as all aspects of University life. We will also treat coverage of this lawsuit as we would any other lawsuit by reporting on it accurately and fairly. Editor-in-Chief Vicky Diaz-Camacho, who is listed as a plaintiff in the complaint, will not be involved in any of the Kansan’s coverage of the lawsuit and Student Senate. The managing editor, Kate Miller, will oversee Student Senate coverage and report on the lawsuit’s proceedings, remaining uninvolved in the details of the case except for what reporting requires.
The mission of the University Daily Kansan is to serve as a primary, credible news source for the University community. Despite the obstacles that have been placed in our way, we will strive for that. The Kansan Editorial Board hopes to have our funding reinstated and our First Amendment rights restored quickly, with as few unnecessary proceedings as possible.