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Lack of funds halts century-old tradition at FHSU

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

A century-old Fort Hays State University tradition has come to an end.

The student newspaper, the University Leader, published its final edition today, said Molly Walter, editor-in-chief.

"We can't publish," Walter said. "There's no funds."

Walter, an art major, has been on the Leader staff since her freshman year in 2010. She's served as staff writer, copy editor, managing editor, and opinion and leisure editor before becoming editor-in-chief.

For the foreseeable future, the Leader staff will continue to publish university news -- but in an online-only format.

Last spring, the FHSU Student Government Association voted to cut funding to $19,750. The amount was $32,250 the previous year.

In a phone interview at that time, then SGA President Tyler Thompson said the cuts hinged, in part, "on discussions that have been ongoing for several years regarding Leader readership totals."

The newspaper received $4,600 in Educational Opportunity Funds from a proposal written by University Leader adviser Gretchen Fields to create a marketing and advertising position.

Despite the new position, advertising revenue continued to decline, Walter said.

Some staff positions also were cut.

"The staff did try to keep it alive," Walter said.

An SGA decision in 2003 pulled the plug on funding for the Reveille, the FHSU yearbook.

"That doesn't mean the university wants to eliminate the Leader," said FHSU Provost/Chief Academic Officer Larry Gould. "We see this as a time to pause and put together a student vehicle for student media and advertising."

Gould said as chief academic officer, he "wanted it tied back into academic affairs."

Before 2003, the Leader was a recognized student organization overseen by student affairs.

"It was also an academic class, a one-hour lab, that was taught through the communication department through the journalism program, a sub-area of the communication department," said Linn Ann Huntington, professor and director of journalism.

Huntington served as Leader adviser from 1990 until 2003.

In the spring 2003, the Leader lab was taken out of the academic program and became "just an extracurricular activity ... in other words students will no longer get academic credit," Huntington said. "It has been a free-standing program with no connection to the academic program since that time."

Neither Huntington nor Gould elaborated on why the newspaper was removed from the academic realm.

University officials are putting together a task force from several walks of life to generate ideas for a new vehicle for student media, Gould said.

It could include a digital and/or a print edition, but Gould declined to mention specifics.

"I don't want to close off any avenues for the task force."

The Leader staff has put together an allocation request for the 2013-14 school year and would like to bring the publication back in the fall, Walter said.

The request is for $75,000, the second highest among the 50 organizations asking for allocations. Only University Activities Board is higher at $85,675. The athletic bands is third at $74,232.

Gould said it's unlikely the publication will resume for the spring semester, but he's looking forward to the process of crafting a "better education experience" for students.

When the newspaper ceases publication, FHSU will be one of only a few four-year colleges in Kansas without a student newspaper.