According to Buzzsaw Magazine, an independent student magazine at Ithaca College, Ithaca recently adopted a new policy that problematically “requires that student media outlets seeking interviews with college administrators must submit all interview requests through the Ithaca College Office of Media Relations. The policy encompasses 84 administrators, including school deans, student services faculty, financial and admissions personnel, and — of course — President Rochon.”
Limiting student journalist access to administrators, deans, and department heads frustrates student media’s ability to get unvarnished opinions and critical information. Policies like this one, therefore, threaten the very notion of a free press and defeat the principles embodied in the First Amendment.
Ithaca College is not the first institution to try to control student media’s access to dissenting views in the administration. We’ve seen similar disturbing tactics adopted, most notably at Harvard Medical School in 2009 and more recently at Chicago State University, whose administration tried to muzzle its faculty this past spring. In a commentary in The Ithacan, Ithaca College President Tom Rochon tried to justify the new policy by emphasizing that it only covers instances when the journalist is seeking an interview about “college policies or developments.”
Count me amongst the many who are unconvinced that this distinction matters. If the college is only concerned that its institutional viewpoint is accurately expressed, it should simply designate individuals who are approved to speak for the institution publicly, so that it is clear that when others speak they are speaking for themselves as opposed to for the institution. Ithaca College’s policy is too broad to accomplish the administration’s stated purpose and jeopardizes the independence and integrity of the school’s press.
This misguided policy has not only caught our attention here at FIRE, but it has also drawn calls for its repeal from Buzzsaw Magazine, The Ithacan, Ithaca College’s Student Government Association, over 60 members of the college’s faculty and staff, and hundreds of Ithaca College alumni. I hope this opposition sways Ithaca College’s administration to abandon this overbroad policy.
Joseph Cohn is Legislative and Policy Director at FIRE.
Used with the permission of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.