What is the purpose of the Student Government Association?
A) To provide a constructive line of communication between students B) To foster student involvement in all campus activities C) To enhance the educational, social and cultural experience of all students or is it D) to provide an environment conducive to the education of all Fort Hays State University students?
The correct answer: all of the above, according to SGA’s constitution.
Yet, Lines Journal, a 22-year-old, student-run literary and arts publication geared to showcase student talent, fell through the financial gaps as it did on Feb. 1 when SGA President Tyler Thompson denied its waiver request for allocations funding, disregarding those four purposes of SGA in a single swoop.
Nevertheless, the reasoning was simple: allocations funding is meant for student organizations; as printed in the SGA Constitution, waiver requests must only be granted to organizations “that are deemed vital to the development of students or essential for Fort Hays … to function properly.”
Lines is technically not a student organization.
However, it has been operating without approval by the Student Organization Committee for years, and despite that, Lines has received funds through the allocations committee without denial in recent memory.
In fact, Lines has never written “seek SOC approval” in its training handbook for new editors.
While this does not exempt them from rules, an organization can’t be expected to fully understand and strictly adhere to policies if they have never heard them explicitly stated or seen them consistently enforced.
Thompson decided this year that Lines would no longer be able to continue requesting funds without SOC approval.
There was only one problem with that. When first-year adviser Brett Weaver and first-year editor Jessi Bittel took over this fall, no one told them about it.
Thompson said he had extensive email contact during the fall semester describing the process with both the editor and former adviser Amy Cummins, who has been an assistant professor at the University of Texas Pan-American since the end of last year.
The current adviser, Weaver, said he was never contacted, even though he says he knows Thompson was given his email address.
Bittel, who took over as editor in November after the previous one quit, said she also had no contact with any SGA members regarding any changes in Lines allocations’ process.
Without any preemptive notification by SGA, Bittel, who had no experience with allocations prior to this year, followed the Lines’ handbook on how to be editor and got her preliminary allocations’ budget in by the deadline in mid-December.
Bittel said she didn’t learn about any changes with requirements for Lines’ request until after she received the Allocations Committee’s responses to her budget, saying she needed to either have English Club or Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, absorb Lines and ask for allocations’ money for the publication, or she could fill out a waiver form for non-SOC-approved organizations.
In that response, there was no suggestion for Lines to file as its own organization, and even if she had been informed of that, it would have been too late to do so.
Knowing Lines was a separate entity from English Club and Sigma Tau Delta, Bittel figured her only possible path was to fill out a waiver form requesting funds.
“I was under the impression that was the only route I had,” Bittel said.
Believing she had followed the steps correctly, she expected eventual approval, so she was surprised when Thompson denied her request.
Though he is right, Lines is technically not a student organization, it does not appear SGA facilitated communication between the executive staff, students and faculty as expressed as a purpose in the constitution as well as they should have.
On the second point describing the purpose of waivers, there is no argument that Lines is “essential for Fort Hays to function properly.” It isn’t. Fort Hays could survive without it.
However, where Thompson says Lines is not “vital to the development of students” is a bit of a misconception.
Thompson’s definition of vital is much narrower than past student body presidents.
In fact, after speaking with former 2008-2009 President Tyler Hughes, he said he couldn’t think of an instance where he would summarily deny a longstanding organization’s waiver request. He thought all of the power should not be in the hands of the executive branch to determine what organizations are deemed worthy to request money from the allocations committee.
Numerous other organizations have been approved through waivers in the past.
In recent years, the American Democracy Project has repeatedly had its waiver request approved as well as Tigers In Service and Tiger Tots.
While all three of those organizations provide worthwhile and helpful services to the university, they aren’t literally “vital” to the development of students.
Students could find alternative measures to do all of those things, such as getting engaged in local politics or joining one of the several political student organizations, volunteering at local churches and community buildings and finding a local daycare.
However, Thompson has raised no concerns about those other organizations publicly in the past and classifies them as vital, believing Lines is not.
In addition, Thompson only uses his narrow view of the constitution on rules that applies to organizations other than his own.
When SGA breaches a rule, he treats the constitution as if it is more dynamic.
For example, the constitution states that the website should be updated “weekly with current legislation and minutes,” and “senator and executive staff members’ email addresses, biographies, and other contact information” should be updated.
None of that information has been updated, and several senators are not listed on the SGA roster.
The minutes also appear to have not been published online in two years.
However, there have been no self-inflicted punishments for this constitutional rule bending.
Lines’ request would not break the bank. The requested $1,408 was by far the lowest requested amount of all the organizations this year, having decreased from last year’s request.
By denying the request, SGA is summarily denying the opportunity for fee-paying students to submit their creative work to be published on campus in one of the only two remaining student publications.
SGA is supposed to be an advocate for students, providing learning experiences for students through the allocations process.
Additionally, SGA has a duty to facilitate communication between students and advisers so they know what was going on and help them through the process.
In this case, SGA disregarded several of those duties.
The arts do not matter, and the creative work of talented, promising students of Fort Hays State University does not deserve to be showcased or shared.
That is what denying a meager $1408 to Lines Journal says.
Lines – a free, 20-year-old student publication that allows Fort Hays students of any major to submit their art, short stories and poetry – has recently been deemed undeserving of funding by the Student Government Association.
Lines supporters and SGA waged this same battle one year ago. Of course, overwhelming support for Lines won out, and the publication received adequate funding.
The reason the on-campus publication won the funding battle was its value to aspiring student writers and artists searching for publication opportunities for their work.
Just how important is Lines to not only the arts in general, but to the university’s brightest creative minds? Ask any professor or student who understands the importance of keeping student art and literature alive and thriving in a higher-education environment.
Jessica Bittel knew the importance of promoting student work when she took over as editor of Lines; she was a contributor to the journal before running the show. Moreover, she understands the impact Lines has on talented students.
“It gives everybody, regardless of their major, a chance to show off their skills,” Bittel said.
The journal provides students and Fort Hays alumni a chance to showcase their work – be it art or writing. Run for students and by students, the publication fosters positive creative development for not only English and art majors, but any student on campus desiring a creative outlet.
As Bittel explained, the importance of Lines to Fort Hays students of every major is immeasurable. Sharla Hutchison, professor of English at Fort Hays, shares the sentiment. She gives Lines glowing praise.
“Lines is more than an award-winning, nationally recognized student journal,” Hutchison said, “it is a student-managed, professional creative arts publication that provides opportunities for FHSU students to engage in hands-on experience in publication management, editorial work, writing submission, design lay-out and advertisement.”
The prized and nationally heralded showcase of students’ and alumni’s creative writing, artwork and photography serves as one of Fort Hays’s plentiful examples of on-campus, future work experience for students. Fort Hays’s very own marketing department cites these hands-on opportunities as a top selling point of the university.
By denying Lines Journal its rightful place as an adequately funded student organization, Fort Hays denies its students an opportunity the likes of which are touted by the university’s own marketing department.
“Being able to put Lines on your resume is awesome. The chance to work on the journal benefits your future career,” Bittel said.
Cutting such an organization is the absolute opposite direction any university wants to take its marketing. From the perspective of future students seeking opportunities for showcasing their work, hearing that a university recently cut a student publication featuring art, photography and literature for no reason is disconcerting.
“Lines is one of the best examples of how FHSU creates unique learning experiences that engage students in the tasks of their chosen profession,” Hutchison said.
“As a student-run journal, it far surpasses what I have seen produced at larger, flagship universities.”
Fort Hays does, indeed, provide unique learning and working experiences through its organizations, student employment opportunities and internships; Lines is no exception.
The earning of a national award cannot warrant zero-funding. English professor Brett Weaver, current adviser of Lines Journal, agrees.
“The journal won a national award. I don’t understand why that would be a bad thing,” Weaver said.
Lines received national acclaim – which includes third place in the Literary Journal Awards at the 2007 International Convention of the Fort Hays English honors society, Sigma Tau Delta – proving that it reaches further than just the Fort Hays campus.
“It’s sent out all over the states – to people far and wide,” Weaver said.
Being situated in western Kansas, in one of few signs of life before crossing the Colorado border, Fort Hays’s location alone limits opportunities for publication and exposure of student work. One of the primary marketing hot points for the university is its size, which is just small enough to allow students to not only get involved, but to get involved quickly.
Being “involved” at Fort Hays encompasses several activities in the case of Fort Hays; it means joining a school paper and writing front-page news immediately. It means writing poetry or creating art and having a ready vessel with which to share it with the entire campus. It means receiving rare hands-on experience in a field of choice.
“One of the best ways to get published is through a university journal, because most other publications ask for prerequisites. This is jumping ground for students who want to get published,” Bittel said.
For over 20 years, Lines has done just that. It has given students the rare chance to see their work in print. It impacts students’ futures in writing and art, helping contributors carry early publication experience into their chosen careers.
Twenty-plus years of providing an outlet for students and a beneficial means of sharing work with not only Fort Hays, but also on a national level, does not result in the cutting of a publication completely in any competent university. Cutting Lines’ funding reeks of incompetence.
“The history of Lines alone makes it prestigious and important. It’s won awards; it’s been around for 20 years,” Bittel said.
“To just drop it is disrespectful to anyone who’s worked on it in the past and to anybody who’s been published in it.”
If Fort Hays and SGA are concerned with the voice and needs of the student body, they will take the academically just action and recognize Lines Journal as a student-run organization, allowing it to continue providing the university’s most expressive and imaginative students an outlet for their creative work and an all-too-rare opportunity to be published.