The Board of Student Communications, which funds student media organizations on Drake’s campus, is currently facing an unsustainable budget deficit.
The BSC funds and oversees Drake Mag, Drake Political Review, Drake Broadcasting System, Drake University Independent News, Periphery Art and Literary Journal and The Times-Delphic. The board was created in 1969 by a university governing body that preceded both the Student and Faculty Senate.
It was intended “to protect sufficient editorial freedom and provide sufficient financial autonomy for student publications to maintain their integrity of purpose as vehicles for free inquiry and free expression in an academic community,” according to its original policy document.
That financial autonomy is provided through the $37.75 student media fee. The fee is paid each academic year by all full-time undergraduate students as part of the larger $178 student activities fee.
The fee was last increased in 2015 by two dollars when Drake Political Review was added as a publication. BSC Faculty Co-Chair Jeff Inman said that since then, revenue from the fee has decreased as undergraduate enrollment at Drake has declined.
In a Feb. 23 interview, he said that operating costs have increased, publications have added more staff and printing costs have doubled due to inflation.
“Everything has just gotten more and more expensive,” Inman said in the Feb. 23 interview. “And we are not bringing in enough revenue to successfully operate these publications at the current levels that both printing and labor require for us to not spend down all of our reserves.”
Inman stated that publication leaders had taken a number of cost-cutting measures. These have included reducing the number of copies being printed for magazines and The Times-Delphic to the minimum amounts allowed under their contracts.
Despite this, the BSC has still faced a budget deficit and Inman believes it will use roughly half of its reserve this fiscal year, due in large part to increases in printing costs. The reserve sat at $77,428 at the start of this year.
“We won’t know the exact amount of the reserve until July 1 when all of our bills come due, but current projections have [the reserve] hovering around $40,000 at the end of fiscal 2023,” Inman said.
An attempt to raise the fee
The BSC’s student co-chair, SJMC Student Senator Gannon Henry, attempted to pass an increase to the fee through the Student Senate on April 13. Under his motion, the media fee would have been doubled to $75.50. An increase to the student media fee can be passed by simple majorities of the BSC and Student Senate. Any increase would then need the final approval of The Board of Trustees.
Henry first began speaking about the proposal in February, The Times-Delphic previously reported, but he did not put a motion onto a Student Senate agenda until the April 13 meeting. Read more about Henry’s proposed fee increase on The Times-Delphic website.
All student senators present voted down the fee increase. Henry walked out of the meeting prior to the vote after a motion to table for one week was voted down.
Henry said he was blindsided 15 minutes before the meeting after being told for months that any proposed fee increase would need to be tabled for one week.
He had told members of student publications they would have an opportunity to speak to the Student Senate about the motion before it was voted on at the April 20 meeting.
“I think that what happened was [senators who voted against tabling] felt it wasn’t necessary to get the input of those impacted,” Henry said. “I think that’s the genuine truth, because I don’t think anything that could have been said would have changed their opinions about it.”
Student Body President Connor Oetzmann said over email that he had previously believed that any proposed increase to the student activities fee would need to be tabled for a week.
After reviewing the bylaws and previous fee adjustment proposals, he realized that it would not need to be tabled. He said that prior to the vote, other senators and a former student body president agreed the motion to table was not required.
“I recognize that I miscommunicated this information to senators, and I take full responsibility for that,” Oetzmann said. “I acknowledge that I was wrong, and I apologize for that.”
Next year’s review of the student media fee
When voicing their reasons for voting against the fee increase, many student senators stated that a more thorough process should be undertaken before raising the student media fee.
Every five years, a six-person committee of the BSC, Student and Faculty Senate determines if the student media fee is sufficient to meet the BSC’s operational needs.
The committee looks at the BSC’s budget practices, reserves and changes in operational costs to determine if the fee is sufficient or needs to be increased. The last review took place in fall 2018, and a review is supposed to take place this fall.
“Tonight I say no…because of the lack of review this addition of $37.75 has got,” Vice President of Student Life Ruwayda Egal said during the April 13 meeting. “When asking students for more money, there should [be] and is a process that is followed and it is a process that continuously has been followed.”
Chief Student Affairs Officer Jerry Parker said in an interview with The Times-Delphic on April 14 that the Board of Trustees only makes those approvals during their January meeting. He said that precedent is in place so the university can communicate any changes in tuition or fees to current and prospective students in a timely and transparent manner.
Oetzmann echoed Parker in an interview on March 29.
“There’s no way the Board of Trustees will hear anything until January of 2024, meaning that a potential fee increase wouldn’t go into effect until the fall of 2024,” Oetzmann said.
As it goes into its five year review, the BSC will be able to continue funding student publications next year, but Inman projects it will need to use its reserve again.
“So if my projections are right, we’re going to spend a half of that reserve, $21,000, on just printing costs again,” Inman said.