Student Fee Decisions Called Into Question

On February 20, 2016, the ENMU Student Fees Board held their annual meeting where over $1.6 million was allocated to nineteen student organizations. The board, consisting of thirteen students, made decisions as to where to place student fees for the year of 2016-2017.

The allocations were made public during the most recent Board of Regents meeting held April 22, 2016.

Student Body President Halle Pittman, Student Body Vice President Ashley Nelson, Board Advisor Draco Miller and the Board Director Kris-Ann Walters selected the members of the Student Fees Board.

Present at this meeting were the thirteen board members, the director of student fees, the student body president and vice president, and the board advisor. The only people present who were allowed to vote on allocations are the board members.

“The board decides 100% on what they want to do based on the facts,” said Miller.

Also present in the meeting was business accountant Andrea Vaughan who had access to all accounts and was available for questions from the board concerning monetary allocations.

Each organization was given a fifteen-minute spot to present their case in front of the board. During this presentation, representatives from the organizations discussed what has been done with the previous year’s student allocations, what will be done with the next years allocations, and what progress has been made within the organization.

The nineteen organizations that presented their cases were ranked based on how they best serve the students. These rankings determined whether or not the organizations would be kept at the same amount of money allocated last year, increased, or decreased.

Of the nineteen student organizations that requested more money, eight received increases for the fiscal year 2016-2017 than they were allocated in 2015-2016. The top funded organizations included Athletics ($541,190), Campus Union ($251,500), Health Services ($250,000), and the Associated Student Activities Board ($155,642.) Theatre and Dance received four percent less than what was allocated last year ($15,000), while The Chase and the student radio Houndwaves received zero funding for the upcoming school year.

“The number one thing the Student Fees Board does is to rank the nineteen departments as to how they serve the students,” said Miller. “This is first and foremost [based] on the justification [from] the person presenting, and secondly the order in which [the Student Fees Board] believes they serve the students.”

“If there is any money that left over at the end of the day, the [Student Fees Board] will go back to who were the top rated departments that served the students of ENMU as a whole,” said Miller.

University President Steven Gamble approved the decisions made by the board before they were presented during the April board of regents meeting, where all five regents approved the decisions.

The decisions made by Dr. Gamble and the board of regents are “absolutely final” according to Walters.

“There’s nothing we can do [concerning the decisions] unless Dr. Gamble has said: ‘You need to reconvene’, in which case we did not have to do that,” said Walters.

[The Student Fees Board] explained they thought the money could be used better elsewhere. I’ve always considered the student money. This isn’t the first time I remember they have reduced the funding. I can’t remember ever [being here] when they totally eliminated the funding,” said Dr. Gamble on the issue. “The Chase is valuable to the students internal mechanism for receiving news information and editorials, etc.”

After the allocations were released, Miller gave the rationale behind cutting The Chase. The clarification included, “not wanting to fund to omit printing costs, [to] force an online presence, and [to promote an] online transition with the budget allocation from last year.”

“We thought that would be a good opportunity for the communication students to really think outside the box. We know it is not their fault when it comes to budget. We thought that it would be a good opportunity to use other outlets such as social media, getting out there face-to-face or tabling,” said Student Fees Board member Doreen Chavez.

“Again, it all comes down to benefiting the students in the greatest way possible,” said current ASENMU Senator Tim Harris.

Lonzo Lassiter, an ENMU instructor of Communication and advisor of Houndwaves, attempted to attend the public student fees meeting. Lassiter was told to leave immediately, and referred to the environment of the Student Fees Board meeting as “hostile”.

"I wasn’t sure if I was even in the right place [upon arrival],” stated Lassiter. “ We opened the door and started to go in and they told us to get out and wait until it was our turn. They only wanted us in there one at a time.”

According to the New Mexico Open Meetings Act of 1978 Section 10-15-1 (B): “All meeting of a quorum of members of any board…are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as otherwise provided in the constitution of New Mexico or the Open Meetings Act.”

A Student Fees Board member who wished to remain anonymous told The Chase, “The fact that [Miller] was there to chime in and give his two cents is not something I was comfortable with. Students should [be able to] voice to senate, student concerns, the president - whoever - that they aren't okay with funding being cut from The Chase. Student Fees is a group that works for the student body and how we perceive their best interests to be.”

“Basically I’m just there to ensure that we stay on track and make sure that the information given is not opinion based, not emotional based, but factual,” said Miller on his presence at the meeting.

When asked what was discussed regarding student media at the Student Fees Board meeting, Miller replied:

“I can tell you what the recommendations were a year ago for student media and really more so for The Chase. Number one, it was recommended for The Chase to move to an online presence and remove themselves from a paper presence. The reason for that is because it seemed to be based on the justifications on the people presented there was an excess of papers being printed. A year ago, they were printing 700 newspapers and the content of the newspapers was not student friendly. Because of the expense of printing papers, move to an online presence. That had a heavy presence going into this year, because the student fees board wanted to see if they were going to follow those recommendations.”

“I know that the push is to go online, that [it should] go online or nothing else exists, but the reality is that while some of our students will go to places that only work in an online environment, the majority of our students will go to places that do both. They need to have not only the classroom experience of online and print, they have to have the practical experience so that when they walk into a job interview, they are taken as seriously as candidates from other schools,” said Patricia Dobson, Associate Professor of Communication. “The program is 100% committed to [the idea] that when students leave Eastern, when they leave the Department of Communication, they have the tools in their toolkit to get a job, to support themselves, and to make a contribution to the world.”

Mr. Miller also stated that the recommendations to The Chase for the fiscal year of 2016-2017 were the same as they were last year.

Due to the laws listed in the insert on page three, student officials may not censor, confiscate, reduce funding, withhold student activities fees, or take any actions motivated by manipulation, punishment, or attempting control of content, advertising, or the medium of the publication. These same laws apply to student government officials.

The Rights of Public College Student Editors

According to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), “Student editors have the right to make all decisions related to the editorial and advertising content of student media. Courts have been consistent in ruling that at the public colleges and universities, school officials, including student government officers, may not exercise the power of a private publisher over student publications simply because they provide financial support.”

“They cannot punish a paper's staff or advisor or withdraw a publication's funds for content-based reasons,” says the SPLC.

Executive Director for the Student Press Law Center, Frank D. LoMonte, gave his expert opinion on this issue.

“The First Amendment strongly protects the ability of college editors to make editorial decisions. Certainly, the format and frequency of the publication are core editorial decisions that, at a public university, belong to the editors.” LoMonte added, “The newspaper can't legally be singled out as a target for cutting because the people writing the budget disapprove of its content. That's been clearly established over decades of federal First Amendment case law. In addition to being legally questionable, a forced decision by non-journalists to change the format of a publication drastically without serious study is shortsighted and raises real suspicions about its motives. If you were a student government official who didn't like the way the newspaper covered your campaign or your fraternity, this is exactly how you'd try to kill the newspaper -- you'd zero-fund it and claim some innocent motivation, like putting the paper online. This move reeks of a retaliatory motive to starve the paper to death. Every campus that has completely abandoned print has seen a marked decline in advertising revenue and reader engagement, because the print product is often what reminds people to go online and alerts newcomers to the campus that the paper exists.”

Dr. Charles N. Davis, the Dean of Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, also gave his thoughts regarding the situation.

“I am deeply concerned by the events taking place at ENMU with regard to both the school newspaper, The Chase, and with Houndwaves. A university without a vibrant, well supported press risks falling behind and is robbing students of a life-changing experience for so many. Careers are made at student media outlets, where many students are introduced for the first time to the work of journalists and of how important that work is. More importantly, The Chase and Hound Waves represent one of the most important avenues for accountability on the ENMU campus. The Student Fee Board’s allocations, or lack thereof, appear designed to do away with just that sort of scrutiny.”

Dr. Adam M. Maksl, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Indiana University Southeast and an advisor of its student newspaper, The Horizon also gave a statement on ENMU’s Student Fee Allocations:

“[ENMU student government] thinks that the cost of printing a newspaper is the same as the cost of printing copies at Kinko’s. They think that if you cut the number in half, that the cost gets cut in half. This is not the case. It’s the first one that costs a few hundred dollars and every one after that is negligible, which is sometimes a matter of educating people on that, but they make decisions based upon ignorance of the process. This is such a terrible situation happening far too often across the country in a time when there are fewer and fewer professional publications covering universities. For the student press to be challenged in this way and to be attacked this way is really sad and unfortunate. It’s bad for students and it’s bad for the university, especially if they’re trying to tell students ‘Come here and study journalism, but we’re not going to do real journalism because we’re not going to support it.’ That doesn’t send a very good message.”

“The only thing I can promise you is that The Chase is valuable to the institution, and is a part of our heritage beyond the immediate service it gives to the institution,” said Dr. Gamble. “It needs to remain, it needs to be strong, [and] it needs to grow. We have no desire to discontinue The Chase.”

For more insight into this situation, please refer to our editorial.

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  Eastern New  Mexico University's student publication of The Chase is a member of the Associated Collegiate Press.

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