Student Life ends readership program due to budget cuts

Facing necessary budget cuts, Student Life will end Mizzou Readership Program effective July 2015.

In 1997, Pennsylvania State University started a partnership with USA Today to provide access for students to newspapers on campus. The program is called the Collegiate Readership Program, and in 1999, Ohio State University, Miami University, George Washington University and Rochester Institute of Technology all began the program.

MU adopted the Mizzou Readership Program in 2000 as a pilot program, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said. At its prime, it ranked fifth in the nation of collegiate readership programs, according to a letter to the editor published in The Maneater in 2008.

But at the beginning of July 2015, the readership program will disappear, as campus administrators and student leaders deemed the program was not important enough to save.

At the beginning of fiscal year 2014 — last July 1 — it was announced that several departments on campus would be receiving 2 percent less in general operating funds.

“We projected that, over the next four years, we would be losing approximately a quarter of a million dollars,” said Mark Lucas, director of the Department of Student Life.

Lucas told The Maneater that the the department employs around 52 full-time staff members and 43 graduate assistants. After the 2 percent cut in the department’s general operating funds, which amounts to about $75,000 per year, these staff numbers would have to be reduced.

In anticipation of the budget process for the next fiscal year, Lucas began talking with student leaders over this past summer, urging them to ask their constituents about whether keeping the Mizzou Readership Program around was ideal.

“They got responses like, ‘Yeah, I’m aware, but I don’t use it,’ or ‘I didn’t even know we had it,’ and everything in between,” Lucas said. “It matched what we have been seeing in the data, which is that consumption is steadily declining.”

With that information, Lucas suggested to the Student Fee Review Committee, which is comprised of students and suggests student fee reallocations, raises and cuts to Scroggs, that the Mizzou Readership Program be cut from the Student Life budget and its student fee allocations be reabsorbed.

“It was a unanimous decision (to cut the program),” SFRC chairwoman Shelby Catalano said. “This particular (program) has been dying for quite a while now. It’s been cut over the last couple years and when Dr. Mark came in and asked for that money to be directed somewhere else, it just made sense.”

Catalano added that SFRC suggested Student Life look into specific schools within the university using different types of readership that are more specific to their majors. It was also suggested that if the library fee gets established, that maybe they could pick it up.

“Given the drastic numbers that have been coming from (the readership program) year after year, I don’t think it’s right to put money into something that students aren’t using vehemently [sic],” Catalano said. “I think that Student Life definitely made the right decision in the fact that instead of extending their resources to multiple different programs and doing the best they can with those programs that they focus on the programs being utilized by all students or the majority of students.”

Matt Gaunt, director of development at MU Libraries, said in an email that while their current plan does mention that the student fee would enable the purchase of “popular, current or extracurricular material,” he is unaware of any conversations or dollar amounts specific to the readership program.

The program’s budget, comprised entirely of student fees, is roughly $100,000. Lucas’ recommendation to the SFRC is to put 80 percent of the budget toward the Student Life fee as a means to offset next year’s deficit, in order to break even. Lucas said the remaining 20 percent is going toward hiring a new position required by Title IX, an RSVP educator.

Readership was allocated $1.73 per student fee this year, roughly 0.31 percent of the entire student fee, and covered the costs to provide The New York Times, the Columbia Missourian, USA Today and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch every weekday.

As these publications range in costs per weekly print or full-access subscriptions from less than $2 to nearly $9, the program allowed students the opportunity to read these newspapers in exchange for a single fee, which has been decreasing for several years.

The program took a hit in 2009, and in the fall of 2011, MSA even decided to expand readership because campus construction caused a decrease in program use.

They added three new boxes located in the Reynolds Journalism Institute, North Residence Hall and the west entrance of the MU Student Center.

At the time, readership was allocated $2.31 per student fee each semester.

To keep Readership afloat, Gunnar Johanson, former director for the Department of Student Communications for the Missouri Students Association, created the MSA Marketing Team last year during his term.

The team’s first project was the rebranding and marketing of readership. Johanson said Lucas authorized the use of $2,500 of readership carryover to be used by the team.

“When I took over DSC under (former MSA President Mason Schara)'s administration, the Readership Program was already struggling by readership numbers,” Johanson said in an email. “Dr. Mark (Lucas) and I had to reconsider summer distribution and ended up cutting many locations from the summer distribution (summer 2015). There was never an issue with money. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, the program ran a financial surplus the previous year.”

However, nothing came to fruition and the MSA marketing team dissolved after Johanson’s resignation.

He added that he first heard the readership fee would be eliminated this past summer.

“I think it would be a shame for the world’s leading journalism school to lose much of its access to local, state and nationwide news,” Johanson said. “Sure, you can make the argument that more and more news is online these days.”

Lucas said the decision to cut the readership program was “tragic in one sense,” but that it wasn’t a tough decision because the students he spoke to and the data he had showed the impact wouldn’t be huge on a campus of approximately 35,000 students. Student Life had not provided The Maneater with that data by the print deadline.

“The elimination of staff, programs and services would be realized if a reallocation of student fees was not implemented,” Scroggs said in an email.

Johanson said there has not been a focused effort to ensure the growth of the readership program under any former MSA administration.

“MSA administration has not tried to assist the program,” Johanson said. “They haven't marketed (there is none). They haven’t taken away locations to save money. Or even dropped a newspaper. No efforts have been made to remedy the problem.”

George Roberson and Quinn Malloy contributed to this report

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