Editor’s Note: This story involves student media, including The Journal. Please click here to read our letter from the editor for details on the efforts The Journal has made to minimize bias while covering this story.
Proposed budget cuts within the School of Communications (SOC) could reduce student media publication printing by more than 80 percent and eliminate 13 of 15 student media budget positions in 2014-15. In the last month, Webster University administrators, faculty, media advisers and students have actively discussed these and other potential cuts that could affect the SOC.
Two students who hold leadership positions at the campus newspaper and magazine voiced their concerns at the March 4 Student Government Association (SGA) meeting. More than 25 students affiliated with student media organizations attended the meeting.
SOC Dean Eric Rothenbuhler said he had planned to give students the opportunity to provide input on the proposed budget before it was approved by the university’s Board of Trustees.
“But somewhere students heard about (the proposed cuts),” Rothenbuhler said. “They heard about something that might happen while it was still just being talked about, and that is unfortunate, but it happened.”
Earlier this semester, Webster made mid-year adjustments to its Fiscal Year(FY) 2014 budget after it predicted a shortfall for the second year in a row. Webster Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said the FY15 budget will need to be reduced $6 million from last year’s budget. Deans have been asked to make recommendations to the provost on areas where funding can be cut or restructured in order to meet the $6 million target.
SGA President Katie Maxwell organized a meeting for Rothenbuhler to hear the concerns of the two student media leaders who attended the SGA meeting: Managing Editor of The Journal Gabe Burns and Ampersand Editor-in-Chief Matt Duchesne. Duchesne said Rothenbuhler told the pair that students would need to wait until early April for specific budget information to be released.
“The discussion we had was that students should have the right to be in the driver’s seat of their own education,” Duchesne said, “and we were basically told we would not get to have any input to how our education goes.”
Rothenbuhler said the discussion he had with students was private. He would not comment on the meeting.
Faculty Senate President Gwyneth Williams said she had not seen any proposed budgets from the university’s deans. Williams said she would be concerned with changes to student media because such changes could weaken the curricula. Williams said other faculty members share her concerns. She added that Provost Julian Schuster is committed to FY15 budget cuts not negatively impacting students’ learning opportunities.
On March 17, Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin gave The Journal a statement indicating that the university expects to finalize the budget by early April. The statement also said Webster is working to realign the budget to its strategic priorities.
Rothenbuhler said his plan is to make the SOC more digitally oriented. He said Webster wants to replicate other forward-thinking universities that are making strong commitments to digital student media.
“If it’s possible to save a little money on printing and shift some resources from print to digital, we wouldn’t be doing anything that dozens and dozens of other colleges aren’t doing,” Rothenbuhler said.
Larry Baden, adviser of The Journal, said the budget cuts proposed by Rothenbuhler would eliminate 80 percent of The Journal’s printing budget. He said the current budget allocates about $30,000 to print 30 editions a year. If the budget were to be cut to $5,000, the newspaper could only publish four or five editions a year.
The Ampersand publishes twice a year. Duchesne said the proposed changes could cut the magazine to one annual publication.
Baden informed Burns about the potential budget changes regarding staff positions. Burns has applied for the editor-in-chief position for next school year and Baden said he believed Burns needed to know how cuts could potentially affect the infrastructure of the newspaper next school year.
The Journal is allotted 10 budget positions. Proposed cuts would leave money for two of those positions.
The Galaxy Radio, Webster’s student-run online radio station, has four budgeted positions this year. Galaxy Adviser Mary Cox said all of those positions would be gone next year if the proposed budget is approved.
Burns and Duchesne also met with President Elizabeth Stroble and Schuster to talk further about the potential cuts. Duchesne said he and Burns wanted to find a way to give students the opportunity to provide input on the budget. Stroble and Schuster suggested Burns and Duchesne talk to Rothenbuhler.
The Journal contacted all five of Webster’s academic deans. Three deans said they could not comment on their budget proposals because they may change.
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Carl Wilson agreed to talk in general about his school’s FY15 budget proposal. He said he was asked to cut one percent from his FY15 budget. He believes cuts to his budget will be minimal and that students and faculty will not notice.
Rothenbuhler told The Journal he could not comment on proposed budget plans because they are not finalized. He said his goal was for the plan to “protect” curricula, faculty and structural activities, the future and teaching activities.
“We want this school to be about the future,” Rothenbuhler said, “and we need to prepare (students) for success in the future.”
Baden and Cox said they have stressed to students that the proposals are not finalized. Williams said she and a few faculty members met with the provost on March 17, and the discussion went well.
Giblin said the administration will be able to discuss next year’s budget in early April.
The university statement Giblin provided said, “a budget proposal for FY15 is in review and must go through several steps before it is finalized.”