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The Siskiyou gears up for another funding fight

Emmy Rawley was headed to class last Thursday when she got an email from one of the advisers of The Siskiyou, the Southern Oregon University student newspaper she co-edits.

The message included a spreadsheet noting the amount of funding allocated by a committee in the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University, which oversees the entirety of The Siskiyou’s budget.

Her eyes scanned the document quickly. Applied amount: $3,897. Allocated amount: $0.

“I was thinking it was a mistake,” Rawley said. The first person she texted was co-editor Autumn Micketti, who didn’t yet know that their newspaper, which has been digital-only since 2012, was suddenly facing the prospect of losing its funding by next school year.

Rawley and Micketti likely weren’t the only ones looking at their funding recommendations with some degree of dismay. The 93-year-old newspaper is just one possible casualty of a budget shortage affecting student programs at SOU, from child care subsidies to the bike program.

“This is just a really tough year,” said Britney Sharp, president of the ASSOU. The student government, with the help of staff advisers, manages what Sharp said has historically been about a $4.2 million budget, which is funded by the school’s incidental fee.

That budget, however, has been shrinking, as SOU experiences a consistently dropping enrollment. Fewer students attending than expected means that bodies such as the Student Fee Allocation Committee — made up of elected student senators and at-large members — have to stretch less money further.

This year, Sharp said, the student government is also facing a budget deficit from the previous year, when the decline in enrollment outpaced expectations.

About $310,000 will likely have to be cut from the budget this year, she said, to avoid carrying the deficit into a third year.

“It’s really hard to look at everything you fund in the student fee, when they’re all so valuable, and pick out the ones that don’t get funding,” she said.

Micketti said it made her feel like The Siskiyou was undervalued when its entire request was denied by the allocation committee.

“It’s really disheartening to hear that they don’t feel like we’re important,” she said.

It was a Siskiyou reporter who first broke a story that body lice had been detected in SOU’s Hannon Library Feb. 1, Micketti pointed out. Student reporters also cover events both on and off-campus that other media miss.

“It’s a way to connect the whole campus,” Rawley said.

For students at SOU who are interested in pursuing journalism careers, The Siskiyou offers one of the only opportunities to gain the experience that potential future employers will look for.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that we don’t have a journalism (major) here,” Micketti said. Instead, the communications department offers journalism classes focusing on broadcast, social media and media ethics, among others.

“People who are aspiring journalists ... it’s the only outlet they have to do this," she said.

This isn’t the first time that the student newspaper has faced the possibility of losing its funding. The Student Fee Allocation Committee has recommended zero funding at least twice in the past decade, in 2014 and again in 2016. Both times, it was saved — first when the university converted the paper to a credited communications class, and then again as students fought the committee decision and raised money themselves to help run the newspaper.

But The Siskiyou’s finances never have been divorced from the budget tides pulled by enrollment numbers and political will.

Julie Akins, who led the class that staffed The Siskiyou until the university ended it in 2016, citing low enrollment, said she wished the school would provide more support for the paper to be sustainable.

“You have this gutsy group of students who want to be verifiable truth-tellers,” she said. “I think it’s very troubling that they’re not receiving support.”

Joe Mosley, spokesman for the university, said the school has never provided direct funding to the newspaper, as that has always fallen to the student government.

“We are looking for savings in our own budget, so we’re not in a position to step in,” he said in a text message Monday.

But all hope is not yet lost for The Siskiyou, nor is it for the National Student Exchange or the Outdoor Program’s bike program, all of which are facing defunding next school year, according to Sharp.

One possibility is to appeal to the Interclub Council, which may be able to allocate funding to The Siskiyou, both Sharp and Rawley said. It has a $70,000 budget this upcoming year.

The finalized ASSOU budget, on the other hand, still has to be approved by the ASSOU Senate, then ratified by Sharp, the university Board of Trustees and university President Linda Schott. That process will likely take the next few months to complete.

Before then, the student senate will hear and read appeals throughout this week, in which student groups and unions can ask the committee to change the recommendations for their budgets.

A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, in Room 313 in Stevenson Union. Micketti and Rawley are asking students and community members who read or otherwise support The Siskiyou to show up and stand in solidarity. Only the editors will speak during their allotted five minutes.

Written testimony emailed to rawleye@sou.edu and micketta1@sou.edu can be accepted until Thursday, Feb. 20, Rawley said. They’ll compile the lot and turn it in to the committee that day.

Micketti said it has been encouraging to see the testimonies from Siskiyou alumni who reached out to express how the student paper impacted their careers long-term. Those comments came from across the country and the globe, they said.

The faculty adviser, Melissa Matthewson, is helping rally support from the communications department, too, Micketti said.

“I definitely feel like I’m tired, but we’re both going to be able to go through and fight this,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Emiliana Rawley, left, and Autumn Micketti, co-editors of The Siskiyou, are photographed in the Hannon Library where they run the nearly 100-year-old newspaper at Southern Oregon University. The two are fighting to keep The Siskiyou alive after learning it may no longer be funded by student fees. Photo by Denise Baratta
Archived copies of The Siskiyou from 1975, (top), and 1988 are among the bound archives at the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University. Photo by Denise Baratta