Mo. college newspaper is denied funding by student government

MISSOURI — The student activities budgetcommittee at the University of Missouri at St. Louis made history last week whenit approved an unprecedented budget allocation for the school’s officialstudent newspaper, The Current. But members of the studentgovernment committee will not be receiving any thank-you cards.Current staff members learned last week that the committee, whichallocates student activity fees, eliminated the newspaper’s funding forthe 2003-2004 school year. Student committee members said the decision was basedon several factors, though editors allege it was based purely on a dislike ofthe paper’s content. Editors will appeal the decision tomorrow to theOffice of Student Life.Last year, the newspaper received $38,200 instudent fees. According to Jason Granger, news editor and next year’seditor in chief, this money is used for start-up costs until the newspaper canmake enough to support itself through advertising. Editor in chief StanfordGriffith said surviving without student fee funds, about 25 percent of thepaper’s overall budget, will be a challenge. “I do think thepaper will go on, but it will be very difficult to do so,” Griffith said.“In a large sense they’re cutting us at the verybase.”In a letter to Griffith regarding the fee request, Divisionof Student Affairs Director Orinthia Montague, who oversees the committee andthe appellate process in funding issues, said appeals are not likely to begranted. “Much consideration has already been given to the originalrequest, therefore, if there has not been a substantial misunderstanding ormisinterpretation of the original request, the original allocation will beupheld,” she wrote. Final allocation recommendations are approved by thevice chancellor’s office.The student activities budget committee,comprised of students selected by the student government comptroller, isresponsible for reviewing requests for money and making funding decisions, saidComptroller Jeff Griesemer. Griesemer, a non-voting member of the budgetcommittee, said this is not the first time members have recommended that nomoney be given to a student organization.These decisions are based on aset of nine funding priorities, such as the organization’s responsible useof past funds, its ability to enhance the school’s reputation and itsability to encourage student leadership and interaction. Griesemer saidthe cut was based on the newspaper’s failure to use funds appropriately,such as offering exorbitant staff salaries.“The Current wasmaking poor usage of funds, therefore, the committee cut them,” Griesemersaid. “This is not a matter of censorship, as The Current wouldhave you believe. The fact of the matter is that they misused fees, did not puton a quality program.”Griffith said the staff does enjoy a“fairly nice pay scale,” but said without it, the quality of thenewspaper would suffer because students could not afford to work there. Theeditors maintain the newspaper was targeted for funding cuts because of recentcontent that upset university officials and members of the student government.In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that universities that use studentfees to fund campus groups must use a system that is viewpoint neutral, meaningthat a student government may not judge fee allocation based on the ideology ofan organization or the views it expresses.Granger said student officialsaware of student fee money the newspaper receives were upset after aneditor’s note stated that the newspaper was self-sufficient. At the timethe editor’s note was published, Granger said the newspaper was supportingitself completely with advertising revenue.Griffith said administratorsalso criticized the newspaper for reporting that a high ranking school officialused university money to purchase a $10,000 hardwood floor for his office in thewake of state budget cuts. Griesemer said that although the studentactivities budget committee’s decision was based on the newspaper’s misuseof funds, the committee “didn’t appreciate the fact that TheCurrent consistently misquoted people and printed wronginformation.”“We understand the importance of free press anda student voice, but will not tolerate the misuse of funds,” Griesemersaid. “I am aware of court precedents set that suggest that qualitycontrol of a newspaper is a type of censorship. This particular precedent istroubling because the students will continue to have no say in how their ownmoney is being spent.”Granger said the staff will take whatevermeans necessary to save the newspaper and has discussed filing a lawsuit.“We’ve tried to explain that if we go to court, this theuniversity is going to look really bad,” Granger said.“They’ll look like the villain trying to overthrow studentnewspaper. In a court case, we’ll obviously play that up. It’s intheir best interest to give us our money back.”

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