FIRE has been following this case closely since it first began in May, when UM’s Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC) cut the Helmsman’s funding by $25,000. According to several reports, this funding cut was motivated by troubling viewpoint discrimination on behalf of the SAFAC. Both former Student Government Association President Tyler DeWitt and SAFAC Chair Stephen H. Petersen were recorded (in DeWitt’s case, in multiple print venues) expressing their displeasure with the newspaper, strongly insinuating that the funding decision was motivated by the Helmsman‘s content.
In light of these troubling pronouncements and criticism from several outside sources, including Society of Professional Journalists President John Ensslin, UM President Shirley C. Raines launched an investigation into the situation. FIRE wrote to Raines on August 24, urging her to defend the Helmsman’s rights and ensure the funding cuts were reversed.
This past Friday, news broke that the Helmsman’s budget had been restored. In a statement, President Raines explained:
The University of Memphis remains committed to both the First Amendment and our long history of having an independent student newspaper. We recognize that all University funding decisions related to the student newspaper should be made regardless of the content of the newspaper, whether these decisions are made by students, faculty or staff.
FIRE is happy to hear such sentiments from Raines and glad to see funding restored for The Daily Helmsman. As we enter a new academic year, we hope that this case serves as a reminder to all of the importance of supporting a free press on campus.