Administrators at Columbia College reverse student newspaper staff cut amid financial turmoil

ILLINOIS — When Chicago bumps its minimum wage to $10 an hour in July, Columbia College will scale back hours for many of its student workers, and until Wednesday, the number of employees on the student newspaper staff would have been reduced by a quarter.

Provost Stan Wearden announced Wednesday the college will re-allocate funds to preserve the student newspaper’s current staff of 40 students after the newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle, bought the cuts to his attention in with a front-page editorial on Monday.

But in order to keep the same number of student journalists on board, they will be required to work fewer hours, said Wearden, who previously served as dean of Kent State University’s communications department. Because of the pay increase, however, Wearden said he expects the student workers’ paychecks should stay about the same.

Under this change, Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Tyler Eagle said the newspaper’s staff will be able to continue to grow as reporters and editors and “to continue to integrate multimedia into our newspaper’s presence and to really heighten our identity as a cross-platform news service.”

Budget cuts follow seven years of declining enrollment at the private arts and media college.

Eagle said members of the student newspaper staff realized they would need to cut positions in March when university officials announced the institution could not afford to increase its student-worker salary budget although the city’s new minimum-wage increase will require each student be paid more. The current minimum wage in Chicago is $8.25.

The newspaper’s advisers met with the college’s dean, who gave suggestions on how to trim the staff, but he said there was nothing he could do. Top editors considered offering unpaid reporting positions, Eagle said, but ultimately decided they’re “fundamentally opposed” to unpaid labor.

The Chronicle’s staff cuts were “contentious,” Eagle said, and the journalism school even offered to give up other student worker positions for the paper. The Chronicle’s editorial board decided to bring attention to the situation with a front-page editorial in Monday’s issue.

The editorial, which Eagle criticized the administration for its college-wide budget cuts, which created a “perceived lack of regard for students and faculty,” and for forcing The Chronicle’s staff cuts.

“For the administration to neuter The Columbia Chronicle by diminishing its ranks and resources is to demonstrate a resounding disrespect for the past, present and future of the college because The Columbia Chronicle is the past, present and future of the college,” according to the editorial.

Eagle said the newspaper staff cuts were approved by the School of Media Arts, and when the editorial ran, news of the cuts hadn’t yet reached the president or provost, but they “responded immediately.” Wearden said he will pull money from his office’s budget to supplement the newspaper’s staff salary budget next semester.

“This is a place we love, and we also really believe in,” Eagle said. “It’s really good for everyone to hear that this place will still exist as we know it next year.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Katherine Schaeffer by email or at (202) 974-6317.