Missouri administrators deny newspaper’s request to intervene in funding dispute

MISSOURI — The administration at the University of Missouri at Rolla announced Monday that it did not find any evidence of censorship when the school’s student government voted to cut the student newspaper’s funding.

Editors now are searching for both legal representation and evidence to corroborate their claim of censorship.

The newspaper, which claims the funding cut was motivated by its content, had delivered an ultimatum to campus leaders last week saying that if the funding dispute was not resolved by Monday, it would pursue legal action.

The university’s general counsel said in a letter to the newspaper that because it had not found evidence supporting the newspaper’s claims, the administration would not intervene and restore funding. The letter does, however, invite the editors to submit any evidence that would justify their claim that the budget cut was based on content.

The dispute began in November 2006 when student government leaders voted to reduce the newspaper’s funding by more than $10,000, or a third of its budget. The two representatives from The Missouri Miner who attended the meeting say that student council members told them they were cutting funding because newspaper’s content was grammatically incorrect and biased, among other reasons.

Chris Stryker, editor in chief of The Missouri Miner, said the newspaper now is trying to find documentation of the budget meeting to prove their case. He filed a request with student government Monday for meeting minutes, but he said he is not sure if a record was kept.

Student Body President Lauren Huchingson has declined to comment and would neither confirm nor deny the newspaper’s allegations.

In Monday’s letter, the university’s general counsel said it found no evidence that any of the budget decisions were based on “the views expressed in The Missouri Miner,” and it concluded that the student council’s actions were based on legitimate financial considerations. The letter also noted that of the 19 student groups whose budgets were reviewed in the fall, almost half saw cuts.

The general counsel’s office did interview several individuals involved and reviewed “a large volume of materials,” according to the letter, but it offered no specifics.

A lawyer with the general counsel’s office declined to be interviewed, and questions about the investigation submitted via a spokesman were not answered by press time.

Now that the ultimatum deadline has passed, the newspaper also is pursuing legal action, Stryker said, but he is still hopeful that they can reach a “rational resolution” with student and campus officials. After consulting with the Student Press Law Center, editors are hoping to obtain free legal representation.

Since the funding was cut the newspaper has printed smaller issues with fewer color pages, though it has been able to maintain its 4,000-weekly distribution, Stryker said.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer

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