Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Members of the community continue to support WSU's The Sunflower newspaper

Letter to the Editor — Sandy West

March 31, 2018 
From The Sunflower (Wichita State University):

As a Wichita State alumnus, who worked closely with the university administration and Student Government Association in a variety of capacities as a student, including as a reporter for The Sunflower, I have to say I have never been so disgusted with my alma mater as I am now.
Perhaps it is because back then, WSU administrators and the SGA understood that WSU is a public institution – that taxpayers and tuition-paying students are stakeholders, and that as such, backroom deals and the ominous threats more common in private industry have no place on a college campus. Perhaps it is because the administration lacked hubris and did not believe that they and they alone controlled the narrative. Perhaps it is because the administration respected the independent press and wasn’t threatened by oversight.

Let’s put to rest the notion that the SGA vote, planned and plotted by university officials — including Vice President of Student Affairs Teri Hall, and the SGA President — financially knee-capping The Sunflower was anything but retaliation for the excellent work of the student staffers, who despite ongoing threats from administrators, reported on financial deal-making intentionally kept from the public eye. Those students had the courage to report on arrangements between university officials and private developers – including a member of the State Board of Regents – that this year will see a transfer of millions of dollars from university coffers to the pockets of those developers. Student reporters have pursued stories about the development of publicly owned land to the benefit of corporate interests and private-sector financial benefactors. They wrote about artificially inflated enrollment figures.
Student reporters also wrote human interest stories, covered sports, clubs, events and recorded the daily history at Wichita State.
Student reporters wrote stories that informed us – the taxpaying public, tuition-paying students, and alumni who poured our hearts and souls into WSU long before Hall, John Bardo, or any current administrator set foot on campus – because we are entitled to know, because WE paid the bills.
After repeated threats over the past year to withdraw student fee funding from The Sunflower – a revenue stream that is historically non-controversial due its status as a STUDENT-RUN newspaper – Hall promised in an email (addressed to administrators at WSU) to “fix” the (funding) problem that is The Sunflower. That would be the same Hall, who: after one year on the job, secured a $100,000 increase in the student fee allocation to heroffice while simultaneously stripping The Sunflower of $80,000; reportedly said in an SGA meeting on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, that students have no business questioning how her student fee allocation is spent; who appears to lack a fundamental understanding of how The Sunflower fits into the structure at WSU; who seemed unable to comprehend the difference between KU/Lawrence and WSU/Wichita in a telephone conversation with me;  and who belligerently defends the initial decision to conduct an SGA Student Fees Committee meeting behind closed doors. Hall has repeatedly sworn that stripping funding for The Sunflower was not retribution despite her email promise to “fix” The Sunflower problem, and despite it being single largest cut to a campus organization – which coincidentally is the entity most reviled by university administrators. Apparently, Hall, the SGA and WSU administrators expect everyone to disbelieve the truth plainly before their eyes.
If this really is all about fiscal responsibility, perhaps someone can explain how the SGA passed its own $256,000 allocation? Or why Hall deserves an extra $100,000 – and why no one is allowed to question it?
I hope Mr. Bardo takes some time to reflect on this situation before forwarding a student fees budget designed to destroy the 123-year-old campus institution that is The Sunflower.
No vibrant, exciting and welcoming university in America lacks a student newspaper. The majority of those papers, whether strategically independent or not, rely on student fees. Most universities are run by intellectually honest people who understand their campus and community market enough to know when there are limitations on the prospects for ad revenue. The argument that The Sunflower can simply make up lost student fees in ad revenue is specious and stupid.
Most university administrations don’t, in conjunction with the student government, declare war on student newspapers they don’t like in order to justify destroying those organizations. Regardless of all claims to the contrary, that is EXACTLY what has happened at WSU.
Hall and others may think they have “fixed” their problem. They would be wise to realize those of us standing with The Sunflower and on the side of good and open governance aren’t going anywhere.
—Sandy West, WSU ’89 ’91
Professional journalist (Arkansas City Traveler, Wichita Business Journal, Orange County Business Journal, Associated Press, Money), writer

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