KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – Top officials at the University of Kansas allowed student leaders to cut the budget of The University Daily Kansan in half to punish it for an editorial criticizing the student election process, the newspaper’s editors claim in court.
Editor Vicky Diaz-Camacho, former editor Katie Kutsko and The University Daily Kansan sued Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham in Federal Court on Friday.
The editors say the Student Senate cut the newspaper’s annual allocation of student fees by $45,000 after it published an editorial on May 8, 2014 that “called out” inadequacies in the election process.
“The $45,000 reduction directly and detrimentally affected plaintiffs’ ability to effectively gather, report and distribute news, and continues to do so,” the complaint states. “As a direct result of the budget reduction, the Kansan was forced to eliminate 13 paid student positions on both the editorial and advertising staffs. In addition, the budget cuts forced the Kansan to leave its News Adviser position vacant.”
The editorial pointed out that the winners of the spring 2014 election for student body president and vice president received “far fewer votes” than a competing ticket, whose candidates were declared ineligible the night before the election, due to “an election-code campaign violation.”
“The strongly worded Kansan editorial, authored by Kansan Board of Directors chairman Mark Johnson, pointed out ‘inadequacies’ in the Election Codes and detailed irregularities in the ‘confusing’ appeals process,” the complaint states.
“In addition to calling for major reforms to prevent a recurrence of the issues surrounding the spring 2014 election, the Kansan recommended [newly elected President Morgan] Said and [newly elected Vice President Miranda] Wagner consult with the defeated candidates, MacKenzie Oatman and Mitchell Cota, before making any major decisions, as they were the candidates chosen by a majority of the KU student body.”
A school appeals panel removed Said and Wagner from office, citing the editorial, and called for a re-election. But the competing ticket was excluded from the re-election and Said and Wagner won again and were reinstalled in September 2014.
The editors say that during the next budget review of The Daily Kansan’s student fees, student senators “used the review process to interrogate and punish Kansan leaders for unflattering coverage” of the senate.
Student Senate Fee Review Committee members used a February 2015 meeting intended to address the newspaper’s funding to “repeatedly question Kansan leaders about the May 2014 editorial and why it was allowed to be published.”
“Following the presentation, the Student Senate Fee Review Committee voted to cut the Kansan’s funding to $1 per student, which amounted to a $45,000 annual reduction,” the complaint states. “After the decision, the official reason for the reduced funding cited by Committee Chair Jessie Pringle was the reduced publication schedule. However, Committee member Garrett Farlow acknowledged that the May 2014 editorial was repeatedly referenced with hostility during the Committee’s deliberations. Farlow reported that members discussed the reduced funding as a chance for the Kansan to ‘fix their content,’ in the words of Student Senate president Morgan Said, and to then ask for restored funding the following year.”
The editors add: “The 50 percent budget reduction imposed on the Kansan was both significant and specific: No other student organization suffered reduced funding. In fact, seven of the ten organizations funded by the student activity fee received funding increases.”
They say the defendant chancellor and vice provost signed off on the budget cuts despite warnings from the Student Press Law Center.
“Kansan leaders met with defendant Gray-Little on April 7, 2015, to personally request that she get involved to stop the budget cut,” the complaint states. “Editors had provided defendant Gray-Little a copy of the statement by Farlow and the transcript of Halling’s interview. Defendant Gray-Little declined to intervene. Instead, she recommended that Kansan leaders meet with KU Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham, defendant herein, who must approve the student fees budget before it is sent to the Chancellor for final approval.”
The editors say that contrary to what they were led to believe by Durham, the student senate did not reconsider the Kansan’s fee reduction.
University officials did not immediately respond to email messages requesting comment Monday morning.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the funding cuts were unconstitutional retaliation for their exercise of protected speech, and the funding cuts enjoined.
They are represented by Patrick J. Doran in Kansas City, Mo.
- Five Legal Secretaries|Sue County Prosecutor
- Scientist Fights U-Texas to Keep Her Ph.D.