KU’s student government threatens to pull funding for student newspaper

Legal expert says Student Senate's action would be illegal

The student funding for Kansas University’s student newspaper came under attack from student government leaders on Wednesday.

Mason Heilman, student body president, said he was concerned about the financial relationship between the student government and the University Daily Kansan, and proposed eliminating the $1.70-per-semester student fee that supports the newspaper.

It’s part of the $4 annual campus media fee that also supports the student-run television station, radio station and campus magazine.

At a meeting of Student Senate’s finance committee Wednesday evening, though Heilman was absent, he sent a memo stating he would veto any budget that included the $1.70 fee for the newspaper.

“This has been a fee that I’ve had a problem with for a long time,” Heilman said in an interview earlier on Wednesday.

The committee heard arguments for a proposal that would have essentially restored the funding, but voted it down. The measure was forwarded for review by the full student senate, which is scheduled to discuss it on March 24.

Heilman said that the Kansan was the only media entity on campus to endorse Student Senate coalitions, which could create potential conflicts of interest between the senate and the newspaper. For example, he said, it could create situations where senators could favor additional funding for the paper in the hopes of gaining favorable coverage.

The fee provides about $83,000 for the student newspaper, which is used to pay student salaries.

Stephen Montemayor, Kansan editor, said the fee served as a subscription fee that students had voted on and approved years ago — providing them a copy of the paper for less than 2 cents an issue.

“If we lose that, we’ll have to turn to cutting pay for students and cutting jobs,” he said.

Coverage would suffer, particularly of smaller groups on campus, Montemayor said.

Heilman said he may not oppose the funding if it were presented again and clearly designated as a subscription fee.

As described, the action to reduce the paper’s funding would be illegal, said Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, a legal assistance agency for student journalists.

“This is good, old-fashioned First Amendment law,” Goldstein said. A newspaper’s content — like its editorials — cannot factor in to a decision to reduce its funding, he said.

Goldstein said the contention that a student government is concerned about its ability to remain impartial when allocating funds to student organizations does not exempt it from making those kinds of decisions.

“It would be like a doctor saying ‘I’m afraid we’re not comfortable with doing surgery with this patient, so we’re going to smother him with a pillow,’ ” Goldstein said.

Similar financial arrangements exist all over the country at student newspapers, and even in some form at other media outlets, too, he said. Congress takes money from the New York Times regularly through taxes, Goldstein said, but the two entities don’t seem to suffer from abuses of power or other negative ramifications from the arrangement.