On its own website, Keene State College promises students that: “Your education — as a scholar, as a citizen — is our goal.” The College also promises students that: “Keene State believes in the value of a liberal arts education — that the best way we can prepare you for the future is to teach you to think critically and creatively, to communicate effectively …..”
For the last two years, student journalists on our campus have encountered roadblocks in their efforts to communicate effectively, news that helps all community members be more informed citizens. As of this writing, there have been 20 documented instances of students being told by employees on campus they are not allowed to talk to student journalists, but instead, must contact KSC Marketing and Communications.
These instances were experienced by student journalists in their classroom assignments, The Equinox student newspaper and KSC-TV’s news broadcasts. The result has been less informative stories and even cancelled stories. As this pattern emerged, faculty in the Department of Journalism, Multimedia, Public Relations requested a meeting with Kathleen Williams, Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications, and Kelly Ricaurte, Director of Strategic Communication and Community Relations. The faculty sought clarification on what policy was being used, now that people on campus who had regularly talked to student journalists for five, 10, 15 years were now silenced.
We were assured at that meeting there was not a specific student media policy, per se, but that a clarification by the college’s public relations would be done and communicated to employees about who could talk to student journalists without prior clearance and those employees who needed permission from Ms. Ricaurte. Indeed, the faculty did receive an email March 30 from Ms. Ricaurte titled Student Media Guidelines. Those guidelines prompted a clarification request to Ms. Ricaurte since the interview contact process described appeared to include most campus staff employees and concerned any matters considered “campus wide” or “department wide.” A clarification was received April 4 by the department, but questions still linger, due to the general and flexible wording of those Student Media Guidelines.
Meanwhile, more instances of student journalists being prevented from doing their jobs have occurred, on matters ranging from cheerleaders, a student athlete to a retiring staff employee. Students continue to be blocked in their efforts to obtain an education to think critically and communicate effectively. They should not have to fight to get information from the administration. Unfortunately, administrators and faculty who have regularly talked to student journalists for years are now silent or nervous. Why?
Truth is an elusive commodity these days in America. Given the current climate, our KSC student journalists join their brethren across the country, working to provide truthful information. They do this work for all of us. The linchpin of any democratic process is a free and responsible press. The current press access policies by the KSC administration concerns and affects all members of the campus community. It is in all our interests to have a healthy and active student press. All of us on this campus have a stake in supporting the student journalists.
Our department mission is to train students at this public college to produce responsible, credible journalism that informs campus discourse and gives community members the information tools to make responsible decisions. There is no more important place than an educational institution to teach the value of the First Amendment and open governance.
We, the JMPR faculty, are speaking out to stand by our student journalists, and we will continue to support them. We are speaking out because these administration policies are negatively impacting our academic freedom and our students’ freedom of inquiry. We are speaking out for the campus community that is being denied information it needs to navigate this course of great change we find ourselves in at this time. We welcome all other members of the campus community who value freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of inquiry to lend their support as well.
Julio Del Sesto, MFA
Rose Kundanis, Ph.D., Chair
Chad Nye, Ph.D.
Marianne Salcetti, Ph.D.
Mark Timney, Ph.D.