UDK newspaper

A bill that imposes conditions on funding, and subsequently removes funds from the University Daily Kansan, recently passed out of the Student Senate’s Student Rights Committee. The Student Senate will vote on the bill today at 4 p.m. 

As an editorial board, we do not support this bill. We urge the Student Senate to vote in opposition. 

The value the Kansan provides is immense, granting the students and faculty of KU unrestricted access to up-to-date, trustworthy news about their community. 

Proponents of the bill argue on Twitter this bill does not defund the Kansan immediately; rather, it creates a mechanism that allows the Student Senate to strip funding from the newspaper if a student reports further harassment. That assertion is misleading.

Nowhere in the bill’s resolution does it state that this threat of stripped funding pertains solely to further harassment. Further, it portends to an immediate stripping of funds; the first half of the bill implies that the Kansan is in violation of the second half of the bill, which would inherently trigger a stripping of funds.

While proponents of the bill seek to endorse it as a measure of accountability expected by the Kansan, that is not the case. There are myriad ways to hold the Kansan and its personnel accountable; the Student Senate defunding it is not one of those ways.

Defunding the Kansan will have severe financial repercussions, which will affect Kansan’s staff. Roughly 50% of the Kansan’s funding comes from Student Senate fees, and the other half is generated from advertising revenue. 

The Kansan allots its revenue to several essential business operating expenses. Most notable among these expenses is Salesforce, the customer relationship management system that is used in offices worldwide and equips students involved with sizable business experience that sets them apart in the job market. 

This funding is allocated strategically to foster new learning opportunities for all students, regardless of major, who want to get involved with the Kansan. Without the support of Student Senate fees, the pandemic could have shuttered all Kansan operations, and eradicated the oldest student organization on campus and deprive students of the real-world experiences the Kansan has offered since 1904. Financial security is imperative to the Kansan. Financial stability ensures the Kansan remains the student voice, as it has for 118 years.

Most of all, defunding the student newspaper, regardless of the reasoning, inherently takes a concerning stance against student free speech and should not be a consideration.

Since the nation’s inception, the freedoms of speech and press formed a cornerstone of America. Free speech and press regulation have drawn scrutiny throughout the nation’s history.

Indeed, the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), affirmed an “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” commitment to national free debate, raising the bar even higher for successful defamation suits against public officials through the actual malice test. 

The first people harmed by the renunciation of funds are neither the Kansan’s journalists nor the general manager; they are its readers, those who rely on it for its commitment to facts and objectivity as a linking institution between university governance and the populace. 

Because practice rarely conforms to lofty ideals held by black-letter laws, nonprofit agencies routinely assess freedom of press. One such agency, Freedom House, publishes the Freedom of Press report, a criterion for which is, “Are media overly dependent on the state, political parties, big business, or other influential political actors for funding?”

Yes.

If the bill passes, the Student Senate would have effectively established itself as a major oversight power against the Kansan's free journalism, more than its current stature. It risks ceasing to become the “student voice” and instead becoming the “senate voice." 

We believe that such an alarming bill increases media distrust, political polarity and ambivalence toward the political process, thereby corroding the belief in democracy and progress, core values that have shaped both the University Daily Kansan and the Student Senate. 

Passing this bill would not only be a devastating betrayal of the First Amendment right to free speech but would also deprive students and faculty of access to accurate and timely news within the KU community that the Kansan has provided for over a century. 

Defunding the Kansan will not only have significant downsides for readers but also for those on staff. Many students view the Kansan as a supplementary learning experience relevant to their future careers.

Without adequate funding, however, the Kansan is unable to function at its highest potential for both students and faculty, many of whom depend on the Kansan for news and on-campus involvement. Slashing half of the budget is not the answer to ensure the Kansan is kept in check.

We urge anyone in support of free speech, student-led organizations and the Kansan to voice your support when the Student Senate votes on the bill.