In its first formal response to a lawsuit by its student newspaper, Kansas University has moved to dismiss the charges, saying the plaintiffs’ claims lack merit.
KU attorney Mike Leitch authored KU’s answer, filed Friday in federal court.
“Plaintiffs lobbied KU administrators to override the elected Student Senate and increase their funding based on a few alleged statements made by fewer than a handful of the 105 Student Senate members,” he wrote. “But the official reason given for the fee cut made just as must sense: the (University Daily Kansan) slashed its publication schedule in half. With students getting half as many newspapers each week, it stands to reason they should pay half as much.”
Leitch said in the motion that although the newspaper did not like that logic, there was no practical way for the chancellor or vice provost to discern the actual motives the student body’s elected representatives, because statements from one member can’t necessarily be attributed to another.
In February, University Daily Kansan Editor-in-Chief Vicky Díaz-Camacho and former Editor-in-Chief Katie Kutsko sued Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham.
The suit alleges that by signing off on the KU Student Senate’s 2015-16 fees — which slashed the Kansan’s fee revenue in half to approximately $45,000 for the year instead of $90,000 — Gray-Little and Durham allowed the Senate to illegally cut the newspaper’s funding based on its content, creating a chilling effect on its “expression of First Amendment-protected speech.”
Though the Senate’s official reason for the funding cut was the paper’s drop from printing four days a week to two, the suit cites a number of statements made by former Senate members that indicate their decision to cut funding was based on dissatisfaction with the newspaper’s coverage of the Senate.
KU’s response also says the plaintiffs, including the newspaper, lack standing.
Neither Díaz-Camacho nor Kutsko themselves “spoke, wrote, or published anything that was the subject of retaliation,” Leitch wrote. Also, The Kansan is part of the university and lacks the authority to sue or be sued.
“Its alleged ‘editorial independence’ is not legal separation or legal independence,” according to KU’s motion. “In short, the UDK is merely a part of the University, and you can’t sue yourself.”
Kutsko currently is employed as an intern for Sunflower Publishing, which, along with the Journal-World, is owned by The World Company.
Earlier this month the Senate voted on required student fee allocations for the upcoming school year, and decided to keep the Kansan fee revenue at $45,000 instead of restoring it to $90,000.
Díaz-Camacho has said the loss of revenue has forced the Kansan to cut back staff and leave the vacant position of faculty news director unfilled. She said that even though the paper does not print as often, it is shifting to Web-first and still needs staff to deliver a quality news product online.