Although Shippensburg University has made many strides toward achieving transparency that should not be discounted, I feel there are several issues the administration has not yet addressed that need to be resolved as it moves forward into a new post-pandemic academic year.
In my year as editor-in-chief, I have set up interviews with university officials only to have my code of ethics (without basis) called into question. Administrators have asked me to not pursue stories because it might make the university look bad. During one public meeting, an administrator asked me to put my camera away because it “might make some students feel uncomfortable.”
One Student Government Association (SGA) official claimed it is against the Swataney student handbook to photograph other students in public without their consent (I cannot find the passage of the handbook that says this, but if such a passage did exist, it would be a violation of the First Amendment). Funnily enough, that same official repeatedly informed me the SGA “supervises” The Slate and holds it accountable for the content it produces.
That is simply not the way the news media works. The press holds the government accountable; not the other way around. This is enshrined in our nation’s constitution.
Despite the situations noted above, SU must be commended for making steps toward transparency. The Slate now has access to more interviews, and it looks like the administration is attempting to open up to the student body more. While I appreciate these measures, they are partial implementations in what should be a foundational policy of a public institution: Transparency.
There are a few small changes which could considerably improve transparency on our campus:
- Less oversight from external affairs. As it stands, when journalists want to interview university officials, someone from external affairs sits in on the interview. This casts a chilling effect on the room, where sources are not as open or “real” when answering questions. Journalists cannot perform their duties for the community if sources are looking over their shoulder wondering if by telling us their perspective, they are contradicting university-approved messages.
- The dissolution of all administration-backed advisory boards and councils. Administrators invite students to join these boards to advocate for student concerns. However, these boards undermine the purpose of the SGA, whose purpose is to advocate for students to the administration through democratic means. Students who voice feedback on the advisory boards are not democratically elected by the student body, and do not represent the voice of students. Additionally, because advisory board meetings are not open to the public, the press cannot report on the goings-on within, which I am concerned hampers accountability for the feedback that is offered. To top that off, students appointed to these positions by administrators have an inherent conflict of bias in offering feedback because they benefit from being on those boards and may not want to speak against those in power for fear of being removed. The place for communicating feedback between the administration and students should be in a public forum such as in public SGA meetings or student media publications where everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to make a point or refute others.
- Regular student media briefings. Last fall, administrators promised student journalists regular sit-down meetings where students could hear story pitches and administrators could regularly answer questions. In the absence of these meetings, student journalists have had to rely on back-and-forth emails and schedule interviews weeks in advance, which is not conducive toward the 24-hour news cycle. I understand there are certain limitations to scheduling but this was a much-anticipated promise that fell apart immediately after the university’s communications blunder after the homicide that occurred last October.
- Public clarification of student’s freedom of the press. The relationship between student media and the university administration has, in recent years, been tenuous. We have come a long way from accusations of divisiveness and negativity, but we need clarification that it is the university’s endeavor to support the rights of the press. Additionally, we need clarification that the Swataney student handbook does not violate students’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to obtain the consent of people they photograph, and that university policy aligns with state and federal legislation in all related scenarios.
I love Shippensburg University and I love my Raider family. But the university must double-down on its commitment to its students’ rights.
To the students of our campus: Please stand up for yourselves and demand your rights be observed. Throughout this past year, the university has demonstrated to me that when I do not actively advocate for my rights, my rights are overlooked. The same will happen to future generations of students who do not engage in the political process on our campus and stay informed about what is happening around them.