University Daily Kansan editors sue University of Kansas official over funding cuts due to content

By Ashley Hocking

The University Daily Kansan’s editors are suing top KU officials for allegedly cutting the newspaper’s funding by $45,000 annually in an attempt to censor its content.

Current editor Vicky Diaz-Camacho, former editor Katie Kutsko and the publication itself are listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit that was filed on February 5, 2016, according to the Kansan.

The lawsuit claims that Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Tammara Durham, approved a KU Student Senate decision to reduce funding by $45,000 per year.

Jane Tuttle, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Genelle Belmas, a professor of the First Amendment and Society class at KU, said that the cutting funding based on content is a violation of the First Amendment. Belmas is a board member for the Kansan.

“Obviously, the Kansan thinks it has a reasonably good case or it would not waste the time and energy going to court,” Belmas said.

Belmas speculates that the Kansan will use the Supreme Court case Rosenberger v. Rectors of the University of Virginia to make their argument. In this court case, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Virginia could not decline to fund a religious student magazine because they objected to its content.

The reduced funding led to a number of changes for the Kansan, including the elimination of more than a dozen positions from the Kansan’s staff, said Diaz-Camacho in an article by the Lawrence Journal World.

Junior Mackenzie Eckman is a former staff member of the Kansan who was not rehired to her paid position after the Kansan’s funding was cut. Eckman worked at the Kansan from January 2014 to May 2015 as a Marketing Specialist.

“I think the budget cut had something to do with me not getting rehired my junior year,” Eckman said. “The budget cut made it so that the Kansan couldn’t have as much staff.”

The lawsuit argues that the cut to funding was made as a result of an editorial published in May 2014 that was critical of Student Senate.

“It’s an editorial piece that they are saying caused the cut in funding, but what is a newspaper without a place to express opinions in an opinion section?” Eckman said.

The Kansan editors are asking the court to declare the funding decision a violation of the First Amendment and they are also seeking nominal damages and payment of attorneys’ fees. The court date has not yet been set.

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