Last spring, student journalists at the University of Memphis were successful in a fight to take back funding for their newspaper, which was cut by the student activity fee allocation committee. But their success may be short-lived.
The latest email sent to students and faculty by U of M president Shirley Raines about the Daily Helmsman said the student newspaper will receive funding through May 2014, but the future of the newspaper's budget is still unclear.
Last April, the university's student activity fee allocation committee voted to cut the Helmsman's funding by 33 percent. An investigation by David Cox, Raines' executive assistant, found that the committee cut the paper's funding based on its content, a violation of the First Amendment. The investigation report suggested that Raines restore the Helmsman's funding from $50,000 to the original $75,000.
In August, Raines selected a committee made up of students, faculty, and staff representatives to research and recommend options for funding the paper. The Daily Helmsman funding committee met multiple times per week from September to this past February, but none of the solutions they presented have been accepted yet by Raines.
The funding committee proposed three possible solutions to Raines. The first would dedicate a dollar amount annually from available student fees to support the paper. Since 2007, this amount has been either $70,000 or $75,000.
The second would use a funding formula based on student enrollment. Rather than a fixed dollar amount, the dedicated revenue to the Helmsman from the student activity fee could rise or fall as enrollment increases or decreases.
The third solution would use a funding formula based on a percentage of the student activity fee. This approach would tie the Helmsman funding from student fees to a fixed percentage of the available student activity fee. The funding for the newspaper would increase or decrease based on the total activity fee dollars available.
Helmsman faculty adviser Candy Justice said she doesn't understand why Raines selected a committee to solve the funding issues but has failed to sign off on any of the ideas that the committee came up with.
"She hasn't come out and completely rejected the Daily Helmsman committee's report, but she hasn't accepted it either," Justice said. "I am very puzzled and disappointed that after the committee worked for months on three very good funding solutions, there is still is no long-term resolution. Why not just pick one and say, 'This is how it's going to be from now on.'"
Former Helmsman editor Chelsea Boozer, who served last spring when the staff was embroiled in its funding fight, said that while she is pleased that the newspaper secured funding for the next school year, she remains worried about future funding and censorship of reporters. Before funding was cut last spring, Boozer struggled to gather news from a tight-lipped administration and says she was a victim of harassment by the campus police.
"There is a bigger issue at hand, and that is to protect the paper from censorship and harassment," Boozer said. "Raines' emailed remarks note the paper's importance in the campus community. I can only hope that she sees how vital it is to protect the paper from retaliation, so that staffers can continue to report campus news as thoroughly as they have the past few years."