- University funding for 2014-2015 academic year would be zero for student newspaper that has been part of UMSL since 1966.PHOTO: UMSL students in the the Student Government Association Chambers preparing to vote on a new combined tuition-fee structure during the last academic year. Photo by Jenny Lin for The Current 2013 ©
The Student Activities Budget Committee has eliminated all funding for the student newspaper at University of Missouri-St. Louis for the coming academic year. No reason for the decision was given to The Current, which is the student organization in question.
Notification that no funding for the student newspaper would be provided for the 2014-2015 academic year was conveyed to The Current’s editor-in-chief, Sharon Pruitt, through an email sent by Student Government Association comptroller Daniel Armistead, who is chair of the SABC committee.
The decision not to provide any funding for the student newspaper was a complete surprise, according its staff. “I haven’t heard anything directly from them regarding displeasure with The Current,” Pruitt said.
The Current has been the student newspaper at UMSL since 1966, founded three years after the university itself. The paper is entirely student-run, with student staff reporting on campus, writing all content, editing, taking photos, designing and producing the paper and distributing it on campus. The students also sell advertising, which helps fund the paper’s operation. Funding from the university largely supports the one thing the students do not do: the printing of the paper.
The Current has been a past winner of many student journalism awards and Current alumni include notables such as former St. Louis Mayor Vince Schoemehl, sports reporter Frank Cusumano and Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zwiefel. However, in the 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years, The Current ran a deficit, $36,253.48 of which was accrued in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 when spending greatly exceeded revenue. In the two years after that, The Current has operated in the black. The student newspaper has worked towards paying off the deficit through a combination of costing-cutting and efforts to increase ad sales, despite the ad revenue challenges all newspapers face now and declining funding from the university.
The deficit has gone from a high of $39,321.12 to $29,914.19, with further reduction to $26,914.19 expected by the end of the fiscal year in June. During this same time, university funding for the student newspaper has declined from $32,500 to $19,350 per academic year.
Despite these challenges, The Current has continued to cover news on the UMSL campus, including the fee structure changes in late 2012, which have made university spending of student fees less transparent by using a “single pot” funding approach.
Student Press Law Center, a non-profit organization of volunteer lawyers that advocates for student First Amendment rights and serves as a resource of student newspapers, states that student newspapers are entitled to First Amendment rights similar to other newspapers. According to their website, “The courts have ruled that if a school creates a student news medium and allows students to serve as editors, the First Amendment drastically limits the school’s ability to censor. Among the censoring actions the courts have prohibited are confiscating copies of publications, requiring prior review, removing objectionable material, limiting circulation, suspending editors and withdrawing or reducing financial support.” The Current has been in touch with SPLC.
“The SABC (Student Activities Budget Committee) which makes recommendations for funding to the Chancellors’ office, is comprised of students of all backgrounds that are appointed by the Vice Provost to serve on the committee,” said Armistead, who also stated that the SGA is “not a part of the allocation process.” The UMSL Chancellor is Thomas George and the Vice Provost for Student Affairs is Curt Coonrod.
“For me to comment on any specific decisions the committee has made would be out of place,” Armistead said. “Something that would be worth noting is that these are recommendations to the chancellor that still need approval. Also, the committees recommendations are not final until after the appeal process is completed. Appeals take place on April 4th, 2014.”
The Current is appealing the funding decision.
© The Current 2014