Opinion: LU tries to silence students – Some administrators control the news with intimidation

Illustration+by+Rachel+Schuldt

Illustration by Rachel Schuldt

Emily Adair | Editor-in-Chief
From Print [November 3, 2015] | Legacy

Which is more disturbing: A university’s staff refusing press interviews until they can put a positive spin on it, or the staff telling its students that they may not speak to the newspaper? As a journalism student learning and practicing information gathering, I view the first as problematic for our academic program. As a student with opinions and civil freedoms, I view the second as nothing short of atrocious for our campus community.

While we are grateful for the staff members who help us to get the details we need, there are others who still shut us out. A few weeks ago, Reporter Lontreal Farmer attended a meeting of resident directors to ask if anyone would talk about how keys unlock multiple doors on campus. Before anyone could respond, Michelle Giessman said “absolutely not.” She said Farmer should speak to Ryan Guffey or Terry Russell, but he could not speak to the RDs.The reporter backed off, and ended up dropping the story entirely for fear of losing his RA position. Giessman later apologized to Farmer, but many of the RDs who were present became afraid to say anything to the student newspaper. When News Editor Viktoria Muench began writing the story, one of her intended sources asked if she was sure she wanted to publish it; housing had told the residential staff not to speak to the Legacy.

Illustration by Rachel Schuldt
Illustration by Rachel Schuldt

I sent an email to Giessman and Guffey, and copied Russell and President Michael Shonrock, speaking out against the apparent effort to stop students from voicing their concerns. Russell responded by stating that he had given an honest interview to Muench, Giessman never replied, and Guffey came by the Legacy adviser’s office to apologize, which I appreciate wholeheartedly.

Guffey said the students had been told not to speak to the student newspaper, and this wasn’t acceptable. Guffey also said nobody would lose his or her job for talking to the newspaper, and said he would be sure the residential staff knows that moving forward. After getting permission from the housing department, Muench’s sources felt more comfortable being interviewed, but one RA said he is still worried. He said there is a chance he would not be rehired, even if he is not fired.

Students are paranoid when speaking to the student newspaper — an organization of peers— about their concerns. I will not stand for this culture of fear. I will not stand for an administration that instructs us to write a feel-good story, as Russell requested in an email. Rather than waiting until an issue has been resolved to give interviews, the staff of this university ought to provide the information when it is first sought. Guffey said that after a Legacy reporter brought this issue to the attention of the administration, it was fixed. And only then did he encourage the Legacy to pursue this story. This forced delay was also seen last semester when a reporter attempted to write about Lindenwood’s vaccination policy. When the reporter contacted Guffey in March, she was refused an interview. Guffey said he “would be happy to facilitate your interest any time after August,” a full five months later. He still has not answered our questions.

When administrators do not provide information until that information looks good for the university, the student newspaper is unable to relay the details of what is actually happening on campus. As Shonrock stated earlier this semester, “students need forums to voice their complaints, and the student newspaper is one place for that.”

So moving forward, will certain administrators allow their students to think critically about the university as Guffey promised, or will they continue to keep them living in fear?