President John Bardo made the correct call in directing a Wichita State University student fees committee to perform a do-over. Now if only the horse can be put back in the barn.
The committee decided in private — over objections from reporters who said the Kansas Open Meetings Act was being violated — on Feb. 24 to reduce the budget of the student newspaper, the Sunflower, by 48 percent.
The committee caught grief for closing the meeting — members said it had been done before, but maybe no one cared to watch deliberations in past years? — and also took heat for the severe reduction.
Bardo’s not quibbling with the reduction, but acknowledged discussions should be open “so that the campus and the community know we are committed to the First Amendment and the freedom of speech.”
So the committee will gather again next week, this time with spectators. We’ll expect to hear why it believes funding should be trimmed from $105,000, this year’s amount, to $55,000 next year.
Could something change in the two weeks since the closed meeting that will make them change the $55,000 figure? Maybe pressure from fellow students and faculty members. We’ll see.
Either way, the committee will have to explain its reasons for the reduction and hear from those opposed to it. Many observers, including our editorial board, think the massive reduction is punitive because of the Sunflower’s aggressive coverage of decisions made by university administration.
One question: If the committee wasn’t obligated to follow the open meetings act and keep its deliberations open, as WSU’s general counsel’s office advised, why did Bardo mention in his statement he thought the committee “acted within the rules of the Kansas Open Meetings Act?”