WSU Faculty Senate votes to support The Sunflower, opposes intimidation and funding cuts


Matt Crow

Jay Price speaks at a Faculty Senate meeting in March. Price, a humanities senator, said “there seems to be no recourse to say no” to decisions made by a nonprofit organization managing Innovation Campus

The Wichita State Faculty Senate voted unanimously to support The Sunflower and urge WSU President John Bardo to restore the newspaper’s funding.

The Faculty Senate’s resolution supporting The Sunflower calls the proposed cuts to the newspaper’s funding “intimidation of free student press” and recognizes The Sunflower as “an invaluable resource of information for Wichita State University.”

Dan Close, a faculty senator from the communication school, said he fully supported the senate’s stance.

“I was The Sunflower faculty adviser for 16 years,” Close said. Close was also an editor of The Sunflower while a student at WSU.

“This is not a battle that hasn’t been fought before, but never with this extreme heavy-handedness on the part of the administration,” Close said.

An earlier draft of the statement read: “The Faculty Senate has concerns that such a budget cut will be perceived by WSU community and national press as intimidation of free student press.”

Gamal Weheba, a faculty senator from the engineering department, took exception to the mention of a “perception” of intimidation.

“It is intimidation,” Weheba said. “Let’s call it by its name.”

The draft was amended with Weheba’s suggestion.

The final draft of the Faculty Senate’s resolution reads:

“The Faculty Senate urges President Bardo to restore the funds to a level consistent with previous years and to ensure that the Sunflower is free to pursue its mission. The Sunflower, which reports on WSU news, current issues, activities, academics and athletics, in addition to offering a forum for discussion, reviews and commentary, is an invaluable resource of information for Wichita State University community including students, faculty, staff, alumni and the wider Wichita community. In addition, the Sunflower represents a unique opportunity for applied learning experience for students, which directly aligns with WSU’s Strategic Plan. The Sunflower cannot survive without proper funding. The Faculty Senate has concerns that the proposed budget cut is intimidation of free student press.”

Faculty Senate President Carolyn Shaw said she met with Bardo Tuesday to deliver the resolution in person. Shaw said resolutions serve to represent the feelings of the senate on particular issues.

“The Senate rarely passes resolutions, and only does so when it feels strongly about an issue, as was evident from the unanimous vote,” Shaw wrote in an email.

The Faculty Senate meets twice a month. At the end of its last meeting, George Dehner, a senator from the history department, brought up the subject of The Sunflower’s funding and its recent coverage detailing threats made to the newspaper by university administrators.

Dehner said at the last meeting that he was “greatly alarmed” that some members of the WSU administration “sought to intimidate The Sunflower.”

Dehner took the lead in drafting the statement in support of The Sunflower.

The resolution was approved by the executive committee of the Faculty Senate 7-1 before it was brought before the entire Faculty Senate Monday afternoon. Shaw said the only “no” vote on the executive committee was from Dehner, who thought the wording should be stronger.

Last month, the WSU Student Fees Committee recommended cutting The Sunflower’s funding to $50,000 after deliberating in a closed meeting. The Sunflower had requested $153,000, which is what the newspaper received until 2016, when funding was cut to $100,000.

The Student Fees Committee’s decision to close the meeting and slash The Sunflower’s funding was met with controversy.

WSU President John Bardo called for the Student Fees Committee to reconvene “so that the campus and the community know we are committed to the First Amendment and the freedom of speech required in a first-class university.” The next week, the committee reconvened for a re-do, after SGA President Paige Hungate called Bardo’s decision “the pinnacle of cowardice.” The committee once again recommended a cut to The Sunflower’s funding. This time, the committee recommended $75,000. The Sunflower’s separate $5,000 request for equipment costs was recommended in-full during both deliberations.

The recommended allocation cuts The Sunflower’s student fee funding by 51 percent in three years.