College Newspaper's Funding Cut to Zero


     ST. LOUIS (CN) - In a decision that could open up a Pandora's box of legal issues, a budget committee at the University of Missouri-St. Louis slashed the campus newspaper's funding for next year to zero.
     The paper, named The Current, has appealed the ruling. The Current requested $29,000 and received $19,000 this year.
     If the decision stands, The Current could cease to exist.
     Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said the case is an outlier in national trends. He said that several legal issues could come into play if The Current's funding isn't restored.
     The main issue could be the funding protocol. The Student Activities Budget Committee, which zeroed out the funding, is an arm of the UMSL Student Government Association and is made up of students.
     The Current regularly covers the SGA in both positive and negative lights.
     "I know there is the perception from university officials to step back and leave those decisions to student leaders, then their hands aren't dirty," Goldstein said. "But it doesn't work that way.
     "It's like giving a monkey a gun and then acting not guilty when the monkey shoots someone."
     A letter to The Current revealing the decision from SABC Comptroller Daniel Armistead did not specify a reason for the budget snub.
     Armistead did not respond to Courthouse News' request for comment.
     The Current's editor-in-chief, Sharon Pruitt, said the SABC was upset by a $39,300 debt the paper racked up. Pruitt acknowledged the debt was partly due to mismanagement from previous regimes, but said it was also due to economy.
     Even so, Pruitt told Courthouse News that the paper has reduced that debt to $18,400 in the past two years.
     "We have a payment plan with (UMSL's) Student Life (Department)," Pruitt said. "We haven't missed a single payment."
     Pruitt and her business manager, Cate Marquis, appealed the decision last week. The SABC will make its final recommendation to Vice Provost Curt Coonrod, who will take the recommendation to UMSL Chancellor Thomas George for a final decision.
     Bob Samples, UMSL Associate Vice-Chancellor, said he didn't have a timeline for a decision.
     "The chancellor is the final step in the approval process," Samples said. "I will tell you that the chancellor honors the process, but the process hasn't gotten to him yet."
     Goldstein said if funding isn't restored, UMSL would have to show equal cuts across the board to prove The Current wasn't singled out.
     The timing of the cuts could pose another issue.
     "If anybody knows how to pay down a $40,000 debt more quickly, then let me know," Goldstein said.
     The Current has more than a 50-year history on the UMSL campus.
     Though the school does not have a journalism department, the paper has trained a number of journalists. News anchors, sports and news writers, editors, newspaper page designers, freelancers, public relations writers, lawyers and even the present Missouri State Treasurer all once had bylines in The Current.
     The paper has broken its fair share of major stories as well. In 1999, The Current was the first to report that the SGA president had pleaded guilty to a felony theft off campus. The story garnered national headlines.
     Samples is confident The Current will continue.
     "Several deans are looking at ways to keep The Current viable," Samples said.
     One of The Current's distinguished alumni is Jeremy Rutherford, the St. Louis Blues beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
     Before the world found out about T.J. Oshie in Sochi, Rutherford was covering him and his teammates on a daily basis.
     Rutherford got his start writing news and sports at The Current.
     "There was nothing better than the team camaraderie at The Current trying to put the paper together," Rutherford said.
     Rutherford hopes the funding will be restored and the paper will continue. No matter where his career takes him, The Current will always have a special place in his heart.
     "I just moved last Monday and the heaviest thing I moved was a tote with a bunch of old Currents in it," Rutherford said. "My wife had told me to get rid of them, but I can't. I don't even know what stories I wrote, but I want to be able to pull those papers out when I'm 50 and see what I wrote."