Committee efforts futile, Helmsman future uncertain
After months of meetings and in-depth research, some members of a committee formed to find an alternative funding method for the Daily Helmsman fear that their hard work will be seen as less important than the opinion of one administrator.
The Helmsman Funding Committee had been meeting every two weeks for five months when it was suggested by Raines' Executive Assistant David Cox that members meet one last time to discuss their proposal with Vice President of Student Affairs Rosie Bingham, who will give her opinion to Raines.
Monday Feb. 4, the last meeting occurred.
Sheri Lipman, the University's Head Legal Counsel, said the committee's sole purpose is to provide a proposal for Raines to accept or deny.
After Monday's meeting, Lipman had slightly changed her tune.
"Dr. Raines will make that [final] decision. She will certainly heavily rely on the opinion of Dr. Bingham," she said.
In September 2012, Raines ordered an internal investigation into why the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee cut the Daily Helmsman's funding by 33 percent. Content may have been a factor, violating the paper's free press rights under the First Amendment.
Raines tasked Executive Assistant David Cox with determining whether or not the First Amendment rights of the paper had been violated. He determined that The Helmsman did have a case against the University, and the Funding Committee was formed to come up with a proposal for a new way to make sure money from the student activity fee is distributed fairly.
Committee member Professor Otis Sanford, Hardin Chair of Excellence in the Department of Journalism said Monday's meeting was an opportunity for Bingham to provide any input she may have, "even on the rough draft," he said.
"I'm hopeful that the administration will, first of all, look at the work that the committee has done and give it some strong consideration in terms of how The Helmsman is funded," Sanford said. "Above all that, I'm certainly hopeful that the administration of the University will see the need for more openness in the process of making decisions about funding, not just The Helmsman, but, of various groups."
The report the committee plans to submit to Raines isn't public yet because it is in draft form.
Sanford said it is important to make sure there are no conflicts of interest on the committee that determine where funds go and why.
Committee member and former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Helmsman Chelsea Boozer said she's pleased with the proposal and thinks that if accepted it will prevent further First Amendment violations concerning Student Activity Fee funding.
Monday afternoon, months of planning seemed to have gone to waste. Boozer described Bingham as "smug" about the proposal and didn't give much input as to what needed to be changed by the committee to make the process more effective.
"We were told to meet with her, so it was confusing to me that she seemed to have nothing of substance to tell us and didn't comment on the actual recommendations at all," Boozer said. "She wanted to ignore the reason why we were here - the point that something did happen and the process needs to be corrected."
Bingham only suggested that the proposal include the additional income available to The Helmsman through advertisements purchased by other Registered Student Organization. Each RSO is allowed $400 every semester on a first-come-first-serve basis to purchase ads in the paper. However, having the money does not guarantee that RSOs will utilize The Helmsman's services.
Committee Chairman Tom Miller, economics professor, said the committee's efforts were "to help solve a problem."
"Beyond making the recommendation, as for the final decision, it is out of our hands," Miller said.
Bingham considers reviewing the recommendations brought forth by the committee as part of her responsibilities and current review of the Student Activity Fee allocation process, said Linda Bonnin, Vice President of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing.
"Dr. Raines is the authority for all decisions at the University," Bingham said.
Cox, at a previous meeting, said that if Bingham should suggest that no change is made to the funding, Raines would not take Bingham's recommendation, implying that Bingham does have some sort of influence on what Raines decides, according to Justice.
"They have changed the ground rules," said Justice who has been at every meeting except for Monday's due to illness.
The report will become public when it is presented to Raines, which could be in the next seven to 10 days, Sanford said.
"I'm hopeful that everyone who is involved in this will see the necessity of what we've done and make the appropriate decisions," Sanford said.
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