Trustees agree to table media fee

After postponing fee discussions one month and giving new university president Randy Dunn a few days to study the proposals, fee proposals are expected to go before the board as scheduled Thursday morning with one exception.

The Finance Committee is expected to table the student media fee, a new $9 per student fee meant to supplement the Daily Egyptian. All other fees will move forward for discussion, as suggested during Wednesday’s executive session in Edwardsville.

Dunn said he didn’t see any fatal problems with proposed SIUC fees but thought trustees might want to address three fees in particular: the student media fee, at $9 a semester; the student insurance fee, at an increase of $32 a semester; and the mass transit fee, at an increase of $2.50 a semester. Dunn said he tried to look at fees that weren’t passed by both the Undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate Professional Student Council, as well as fees not directly tied to a debt stream.

While Dunn said he would go as far as to recommend all the fees as they have been vetted, he understood trustees might have questions about specific items.

In regards to the student media fee, which was created to support the efforts of the Daily Egyptian, Dunn said he would ask anyone requesting a fee to prove they have tried other ways to fix their problems first, but felt it was ultimately the board’s decision as he has not been involved in the fee development. He said he talked to Chancellor Rita Cheng about the fee.

“I don’t want to put words in (Cheng’s) mouth, but I think to characterize her thinking, there have been efforts that have been made to do some of that belt tightening, if you will, to the point that she was obviously supportive of sending up the $9 fee,” Dunn said.

Dunn said had he been involved in the fee development, he might have asked more questions about alternative methods of income, but did note the paper provided the board with information about the fee.

“To the students’ credit, they’ve given me some information,” he said. “That may pass sufficient muster for you all.”

Other trustees asked if the paper had considered going online or weekly. Dunn said he knew there was discussion about moving some staff salaries from the Daily Egyptian’s ad revenue to the School of Journalism. Trustee Don Lowery recommended the school play a bigger role in funding the paper.

“It seems to me that if … they employ a lot of students, they learn a lot from doing this, it’s almost like an externship,” he said. “It ought to be an internal cost to the department of journalism, and they should get the money to run that program through the appointment process.”

Daily Egyptian faculty managing editor Eric Fidler said he has explored multiple college paper business models trying to find an answer to the paper’s problems.

“I have not been able to find a single college paper that receives no student fee, no direct support from the university, has five professional staff on its payroll and pays all of the students who work there,” Fidler said.

The paper has payroll costs of more than $500,000 a year and online ad revenue of approximately $30,000 a year, meaning transitioning the paper online isn’t feasible — and tabling the fee could cause a chain reaction, Fidler said.

“I’m not certain that the board has fully considered the ramifications of putting [the fee] off for a year,” he said. “It almost certainly means the end of the Daily Egyptian and, not too long after the end of the Daily Egyptian, I believe you’ll see the end of the School of Journalism.”

William Freivogel, School of Journalism director, released a statement in which he said he hopes the board reconsiders tabling the fee.

“The school was just reaccredited last Friday, in large part due to the DE,” he said. ” There also is an issue of equity. The board has approved a fee of $7-plus for the SIUE weekly newspaper (the Alestle). A fee of $9 for SIUC daily is only fair.”

Freivogel said it would not be feasible for the School of Journalism to take on the Daily Egyptian’s costs.

“The School of Journalism barely has enough to pay professors’ salaries,” he said.

The board reached a consensus to table the fee for a year with the caveat that the president’s office will continue to help the paper with funds while it explores more options. The announcement will be made during Thursday morning’s Finance Committee meeting.

Fidler said he did not know how much was in the president’s budget and therefore couldn’t say if it would be enough to keep the paper going.

Trustees also spent time discussing the $32 student insurance fee increase. Dunn said the Undergraduate Student Government approved the fee but the Graduate Professional Student Council did not. GPSC was concerned the plan would cover only the minimum requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Dunn said.

“[GPSC was] bothered because the student insurance plan was minimally compliant instead of fully compliant,” he said. “Well, that’s like being pregnant. You either are or you aren’t.”

Dunn said he understood graduate students may use insurance more to care for their families, but he felt comfortable saying the university will be compliant with health care law.

Trustee Marquita Wiley said the fee is ultimately cheap for families compared to outside alternatives, and students who want to get their own insurance plan can have the fee refunded.

“It’s almost a moot point to have a groundswell of people who want to go to a private insurer when in fact anybody can do that anyway,” Wiley said.

Trustee committee meetings begin Thursday at 9 a.m. with the full board expected to convene at approximately 10 a.m.

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About Karsten Burgstahler

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at kburgstahler@dailyegyptian.com or 536-3311 ext.255.

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