Muleskinner temporarily goes all-online after budget cut

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By JACQUE FLANAGAN
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – The student newspaper at the University of Central Missouri will not print this coming school year.
The Muleskinner was placed in a one-year abeyance as part of university budget cuts. A total of 11 student staff positions were affected, including the graduate assistantship reserved for the managing editor.
Matt Bird-Meyer, the newspaper’s faculty adviser, said these cuts were unexpected as they came after communication department faculty were notified at the end of May of some $35,000 in budget reductions by cutting two graduate assistantships. This was part of the $1.5 million in cuts required of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
However, the chairs for the college were called to an emergency meeting June 13 and nearly $860,000 in additional cuts were made throughout the CAHSS, including the budget for the Muleskinner and its assistantship, according to an email to communication department faculty. The communication department lost a total of five teaching assistantships and two graduate assistantships in the cuts.
Overall, the university lost $5.36 million in state appropriations for the 2018 fiscal year. Art Rennels, chair of the communication department, said the university could have absorbed the loss if it wasn’t for a drop in enrollment.
“We probably could have weathered the state cuts without significant impact to programs but when you couple the state budget cuts with a significant drop in student enrollment, from overseas students coming in with out-of-state tuition, it’s kind of the perfect storm for the university,” he said.
Bird-Meyer said the abeyance is a first for the Muleskinner.
“This is an unprecedented situation at the Muleskinner, and I feel terrible for the students who have worked so hard to maintain a high level of journalistic excellence at the newspaper, who already were working with limited resources, and for the new employees who were recently hired only to have those offers rescinded,” he said. “However, there are a lot of folks in our department and advisory board members who are working hard to do what they can to support these students. I also think this is a great opportunity to innovate, try some new things, and continue to do good journalism online.”
Although the newspaper will be closed, students will continue to maintain the Muleskinner’s website, digitalBURG.com.
Andrea Wood, president of the Student Publications Board, which oversees the Muleskinner and digitalBURG, said the abeyance is counter-intuitive for the program and its students.
“I understand that administrators were put in an extremely difficult position due to the Republican leadership of the state slashing the state’s higher education budget,” Wood said in a written statement. “However, the award-winning Muleskinner gave students the opportunity for real-world, hands-on experiences to prepare for their future careers. Ultimately, that is the entire mission of UCM – to give students the tools to succeed post-graduation – so these cuts seem to directly challenge that mission.”
Wood said she also feels terrible for the Muleskinner staff who had made plans for the next school year based on those positions, for which staff members had already been interviewed and hired. The unexpected elimination of those students’ positions, laying them off, but asking that they continue to work to sustain an online daily news outlet for free is unrealistic, she said.
Joe Moore, digital media production program coordinator, said he’s taking the abeyance as a good thing in the long run.
“I don’t think anyone ever wants to go through them… you think you’re doing what’s right, and when you go through budget cuts, they make you rethink everything you have to do,” Moore said. “What’s right for the students? What’s right for the faculty? Now are we being good stewards? Are we getting fat? Are we spending money in the right places? It can be good.
“But a big one like this – it hurts.”