The Sunflower

Letter to the Editor — Kelsey Ryan

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Recent developments regarding a proposed 50 percent funding cut for Wichita State’s Sunflower are troubling.

But they’re far from surprising.

This scenario replays across the nation when student journalists do a good job — coverage of campus beyond the latest sorority fundraiser, basketball game or feature piece. It’s what happens when student journalists examine the money, the relationships, and the policies in practice at a public university that is supposed to promote a marketplace of ideas.

And this is not the first time it’s happened at a university in Kansas.

The similarities are uncanny to what’s happening at Wichita State and what occurred at Emporia State from 2009 to 2011, while I was editor of the student newspaper there.

Here’s the general script: Student journalists write critical coverage of an administration and student government. Student government threatens funding in apparent retaliation for coverage. The untenured newspaper adviser is threatened for not censoring student coverage. Student journalists raise hell.

But one major difference is the university president at Emporia State at the time — who resigned under pressure following coverage by the student newspaper — did not have business dealings with the chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents. As head of the Wichita State Innovation Alliance, WSU President John Bardo does, as The Sunflower has pointed out in its recent articles.

And if things take a turn for the tyrannical, where else will the student newspaper be able to redress its grievances, if not the Kansas Board of Regents?

Journalists are not perfect. And student journalists are still students. But the student journalists at The Sunflower have shown enormous courage to speak truth to power. They are doing what we should all most want, and indeed what we all most need, in a free press.

For the record, the student government at Emporia State ultimately made the right decision to keep and eventually increase funding for student publications on campus.

But if Wichita State’s student government does not do the right thing on Friday, then the duty falls to Bardo to reject their proposal to cut funding.

Will they make the right choice? Will he make the right choice? Or is free speech and a free press dead at Wichita State?

———

Kelsey Ryan is an investigative reporter at The Kansas City Star and a board member of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. She’s a former reporter at The Wichita Eagle and was editor of her student newspaper, The Bulletin, at Emporia State University from 2009-2011.

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