The Kansas Senate advanced a bill Wednesday to require the Wichita State University student fees committee to meet in the open, after the public was barred from a February meeting.
Senators gave early approval to the legislation on a voice vote. A final vote is likely on Thursday.
Senators voted to amend the original bill, dealing with campus free speech, to include the requirement that committees involved in allocating student fees following the state’s open meetings law. The legislation would apply to the WSU student fees committee and similar panels at other public universities.
“As I review the millions of dollars that are collected in student fees, I think it’s important that we provide transparency to the students as to how that money is allocated, similar to what any school board or any city or county would do if they collect fees,” Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, said.
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Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, carried the underlying bill on the Senate floor. He took no position on the amendment, but suggested it was focused on WSU.
“It feels pointed toward one institution,” Masterson said.
The amendment was adopted on a voice vote. No “nay” votes could be heard.
If the Senate passes the bill, it will head to the House.
Rogers proposed the amendment in response to a decision by WSU in February to bar the public from the WSU student fees committee because “these deliberations have always been closed,” Teri Hall, vice president for student affairs, said at the time. The committee is made up of a group of university students and administrators.
WSU President John Bardo then called for the committee to meet in public and an open meeting was eventually held.
The conflict over the committee developed amid a controversy over funding for The Sunflower, the student newspaper.
The committee at its closed meeting recommended cutting funding for the newspaper from $105,00 to $55,000. The Sunflower had requested $158,000 in student fees, the amount it had received for several years before a budget cut in 2016.
At the open meeting, the committee recommended $75,000 in funding.
The editor of the newspaper, Chance Swaim, has said the proposed cut is retaliation over coverage. Paige Hungate, WSU student body president, has said the proposal has nothing to do with coverage or content.