Swindled By SLU: How the UNews Got Evicted For the 3rd Time

The University News has been at SLU since 1921, and much has changed in the last few decades. With the rise of online media, there is a decreasing consumption of physical paper news, making our print issues more costly than before. For nearly all of our history, we printed an issue a week, but as time passed and printing costs rose, EIC’s before me made the difficult decision to print only once a month. 

In order to provide the most unbiased version of student news, we do not, nor have we ever, received University funding. We pride ourselves on being free from administrative ties, but with that comes the struggle of surviving off of advertisements and donations. As an organization we have worked hard to remain funded and relevant, but this past year my dealings with the administration have led me to believe that they care very little about student media.

Let’s start with some UNews history. Over the course of the last decade, our organization has moved three times. The reason for the moves are primarily related to increases in student support services and greater numbers of chartered student organizations, but the dwindling space allocated for student media organizations communicates that those activities are less of a priority. Devaluing student media is counterproductive and counterintuitive to SLU’s mission. We are a newspaper by and for students who work to amplify voices for the greater good. Yet, these moves have hindered The University News from sharing SLU community stories. Each move was a downgrade and a reduction in square footage. Until 2014, we worked out of a space that had about 2,000 sq ft. and lost a little over 1000 sq ft. with the next move. Our most recent migration has brought us down to about 300 sq ft of working space exclusive to the newspaper. Over the past few years as a UNews staff member, I heard stories of how disruptive these moves and changes were. But it wasn’t until this school year that I really understood what they meant. Because I had the honor of being this year’s editor in chief, I also dealt with being removed from our newsroom into a closet in the KSLU studio.

It all started last summer, June 2022, when I got an email asking to have a Zoom meeting with the new VP of Student Development, Dr. Sarah Cunningham, and her chief of staff at the time, Ashley Jost. Their email stated that they would “love to hear more about your vision for the UNews and how we can support you.” Receiving this email gave me a sense of comfort, as I was nervous for my new role and I felt that they were going to help me out. I left our July 28th meeting feeling confident and excited for the new year. But little did I know, that meeting was going to completely change the trajectory of the UNews this school year.

My main goal for this conversation was to have open channels of communication between us and the SLU administration. We talked about various things that the UNews would like, such as new technology and whatnot, but all I really wanted was strong communication. Spoiler alert, we didn’t get that.

One of the questions Cunningham asked me was about the status of our current newsroom, and if we liked it or not. I gave this a lot of thought before answering. Was our newsroom as nice as the ones we had before? No. Does it work well for us now? Yes, it works just fine. Would we like a bigger and better space? Of course. So that’s what I told her. That if offered a bigger, nicer, more advanced space, then we’d willingly move, but otherwise, there’s no need. We were just fine where we were. Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter how I phrased my answer. SLU administration already had plans to remove the UNews from our space, downsizing us yet again. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fast forward to September, when I got an email from Dr. Ben Perlman, Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement, asking to grab coffee and chat. Sept. 21st, we met and spoke about SLU, how I got here and my position in the UNews. He works in the Busch Student Center, where the UNews resides, and just like Cunningham, he asked me about the status of our newsroom. He said that she had mentioned to him that we didn’t like our current space and wanted something new. I clarified that we only wanted a new space if it improved upon our current one, and if not, we were content. He said a space was opening up in the BSC that we could move into and that he would connect me with David Young, the Operations Manager at the BSC. I was excited, thinking that this could be an upgrade, and that SLU was willing to invest in their student media.

Oct. 12th, I toured the new space with Young, and was shocked! This room felt like the size of a closet, it was a joke. It’s nearly soundproof, has no windows or adequate ventilation, and there’s a large structural pillar in the middle of the room. Young tried to sell me on his concept of how the UNEWS could work there, but I couldn’t see it. He also said several times that “you are definitely losing square footage, I am not debating that” but tried to make it sound better by saying we “would gain space with the lounge.” To explain, this proposed “newsroom” was currently a storage space for SAB in the KSLU studio. This means that if we moved to this dimly lit closet (the lights weren’t working when we toured the space), we would share KSLU’s lounge/meeting  space. We would have to, seeing as there’s simply no way this 300 sq ft box could accommodate our executive board (e-board) of nearly twenty people. Let’s be clear, the UNews loves KSLU, but Young was trying to portray this move as a beneficial thing for both clubs when it was not a  merger that either club wanted or chose. Right then and there, I told him that we didn’t want this space and were happy to stay where we were.

As the semester progressed and midterms were behind us, I heard more rumors that administrators were eyeing our current space for use as staff offices. Everyday I was stressed and worried about maintaining the over 100 year legacy of the UNews in the face of an administration that was not hearing our desires or needs. In desperation, I went to the communication department. As a communication major who has always felt supported by the department, I sought their advice in a time when I had no idea how to proceed. I wasn’t necessarily asking for help, because I knew they had no control over this. I just wanted someone to be there for us and advocate for The University News. Dr. Kozlowski, a proud Unews alum, tried his best to help out of his belief that a university newspaper is crucial to a thriving campus community. He reached out to Dr. Perlman and tried getting more information, but we soon realized that different things were being communicated to different people. It was only clear that nothing about this was clear.  

At this point it occurred to me that KSLU conceivably didn’t even know that we might be moving into their space. They did not. The KSLU general manager, Ainsley Worthley, and I had several meetings trying to figure out what the next best steps were. Since neither of us had any information provided to us by Student Development or the BSC, we took it upon ourselves to reach out first. We sent out a joint email to David Young, Ben Perlman, Sarah Cunningham and Jackie Weber, the Director of Student Involvement and then met with all of them on Dec. 9th.

They kept using the phrase of “a bad game of telephone,” throughout the meeting. From my perspective, it was more of a private chat that we were never included in. However, it was a game that I, along with the University News and KSLU, felt completely played.

The facts finally emerged that an expansion in higher level administrative staff was making it imperative to find space in the BSC to accommodate those hires, and our newsroom was the best place for that. Things had to move rapidly as “it became a need,” Perlman said, which led to them having to move us to another location. None of this had been communicated to me or Ainsley until this point and I was only shown one option for a room. “The only suitable office space that’s available right now is the space that you saw, so I thought it would be conducive,” Perlman said. The rooms the UNews have been crammed into are a significant decrease in space (remember we went from 1,000 sq ft to 300 sq ft) and are not conducive to the thoughtful work and collaboration that goes into producing a newspaper. 

I fought hard to keep our old office space. Amidst trying to figure out my plans post-graduation, I knew that this was worth my time and energy because The University News matters. At the end of the day though, I am a student whose voice was dismissed  by an administration that did not care about the needs of their student media organization. 

It feels like you are advocating for this not to happen, “Perlman told me, “and there’s enough staffing coming in that this is not a choice piece for me, in the sense that we’re going to go at least plus three over the next six months and that’s going to affect our ability to staff in the building.”  As the upheaval moved forward, Perlman asked us for a list of things The University News needed to make the closet space work for our e-board of nearly 20 people. I could only respond that I never told him what I needed, because up until that point, I was still under the impression that a move to a new space was optional. 

This was an extremely stressful time for me. It was finals week, I was about to fly home, and I had the weight of this moving stress on my shoulders. They did hear my feelings and agreed to postpone the official move until late January, so I would have some time after winter break to plan and organize.

I want to note that Perlman apologized several times during this meeting for the execution of these plans. I genuinely appreciate the apology, I just wish all administrators, such as Weber and Young, understood the consequences of their actions on the student voice. 

On Jan. 18th, Worthley and I again met with Perlman, Weber and Young to discuss the move. Since the move to the new space was not optional, they agreed to provide furniture better suited to the smaller offices, debugged Macs, Adobe InDesign licenses and key card access to the new room, well before our next production date on Feb. 22nd. 

  • January 20th: Date we were promised access to Adobe InDesign licenses
  • January 27th: The date we were told that our computers, tables, storage cabinets and office  couches would be moved.
  • February 9th: Everything in our space was properly labeled and ready to go, but nothing had been moved
  • February 21st: Adobe InDesign licenses activated. Some of the furniture was delivered, but piled in the KSLU lounge and NOT in our office. The new space was still cluttered with trash and debris from SAB and SLU-TV and the lights in one room were not working. Most importantly, none of our belongings were in the new room and the movers forgot multiple clearly-labeled items. 
  • February 22nd: Production night, when all 18 of our editors come together to design and produce the layout for that month’s issue. From there, we send it to the printer and distribute it across campus. We attempted to move desks and computers into the new office space, but we could only do so much. We requested that everything be properly moved immediately, but this did not happen until March 27th.

The University News is currently trying its best to make our closet space work, but it’s been a challenge. We are basically on top of one another, heating up the small space with too many bodies and working in the KSLU common space means vying for space with their organization members using that room. Additionally, the soundproofing we were promised by Young is not the reality. Even when we are able to tolerate the heat with the help of multiple fans, we can clearly hear KSLU’s broadcasts. During production night, where creativity is fostered and deadlines are met, our thoughts are distracted by music and talk show hosts, it’s necessary to keep the doors open to prevent our entire e-board from overheating. There is little separation between us and KSLU and though we share the identity of student media, our creative processes are different and not always compatible. 

Additionally, Student Development arranged for ITS to fix our Mac desktops, but the computers were not usable until our March production night. Even then, only a couple started up properly, and now in April, all of the computers are prone to crashing while attempting to run the InDesign software. We also discovered that the software licenses that Young had given us were only good for a month and had expired after the first production night. We made do with seven-day free trials from Adobe in order to print on time. The software situation has been resolved, but it is frustrating that the support we were promised during this unwanted move usually requires multiple calls, emails and pleas for assistance. The promises feel empty.

Overall, the UNews feels that we are not valued by the Student Development administration. Our requests were partially met, extremely delayed and not what we originally asked for. I have dedicated much of my college career to the UNews and have absolutely no regrets. When there was no one to fill the role as editor in chief, I stepped in despite not feeling like I had enough experience. This past year has taught me so much about leadership, communication, collaboration, and most importantly, myself. While most seniors were focusing on their post-graduate plans, I was constantly overwhelmed with issues caused by our eviction. Though it caused me a lot of stress and grief, I never did and never will regret how much I fought for our organization. The UNews is worth fighting for.