TO: University President Gregory Dell’Omo, Provost DonnaJean Fredeen
CC: CLAS Dean Jonathan Millen, Letters to the Editor – The Rider News
The faculty of Rider University’s Department of Communication and Journalism is deeply distressed by recent actions taken by University President Gregory Dell’Omo and members of his administration to restrict the activity of student media coverage of campus events.
Unfettered media access to campus events is critical to the ongoing education and hands-on learning provided to our department’s communication and journalism students. Furthermore, informed and unbiased media content is critical to creating and maintaining a knowledgeable and engaged university community. The value of news and information to citizens is deeply embedded in our nation’s democracy and history.
On Nov. 4, instead of allowing a student journalist from The Rider News to cover Dell’Omo’s meeting with Westminster Choir College parents, the administration contrived a parents’ vote to exclude student media coverage of the event. The vote was taken without the journalist – or anyone else – allowed to advocate for the value of neutral, unbiased communication of the event to the rest of the university community and to WCC parents unable to attend the forum. In addition, the administration also actively prevented WCC students from attending this event in Hillman Hall.
The president’s weekend event with WCC parents was not truly a closed or private event – entry was not rigorously checked at the door, cellphones and other recording devices were not prohibited, and attendees were free to speak about the meeting at its conclusion. Student media should have been permitted without question, and parents should not have been allowed to set university student media policy.
A second troubling instance occurred on Nov. 2, when a plainclothes security employee prevented a student journalist from attending a WCC faculty informational meeting with Dell’Omo at Bristol Chapel, until a member of the faculty stepped up to forcefully advocate that the student be allowed to attend this event in a campus facility.
A third incident occurred last month, when members of Rider’s administration communicated to department faculty members that students were prohibited from covering and live-tweeting actress Kate Hudson’s Oct. 26 appearance on campus – even though the Twitter activity was part of an assignment. Indeed, today such assignments are a crucial part of communication and journalism education. Other student attendees at the Hudson event were barred from taking photographs. Although this event was sponsored by an outside organization, it was open to the entire community, held in Rider’s Student Recreation Center, and the university secured 200 student tickets for the event.
In barring – or attempting to prohibit – the legitimate news-gathering activity of student media workers at campus events, the administration is promoting a chilling, incomplete and inauthentic environment of communication, knowledge-gathering and deep learning – not just among our communication and journalism students, but throughout our entire university community.
While the proposed sale of WCC is clearly a fraught issue for our campuses, preventing the free flow of information only adds to the problem. In fact, attempts to block media coverage give life to a suggestion that the university is not being straightforward with the community and has something it desires to hide. When taken together, these three recent incidents demonstrate a troubling willingness by the university president and administrators to squelch the access and news-work of members of both the student and professional media.
The faculty of the Department of Communication and Journalism requests that members of the student media be allowed unfettered access to all future campus events conducted by administrators and open to large segments of the university community, such as informational meetings with faculty, students and parents.
In addition, the university should no longer agree to event contracts with outside entities that prohibit all press and media access. Instead, student and media access should be explicitly permitted in future Rider University facilities contracts with outside entities, such as Hudson’s event sponsor Princeton Healthcare System.
Universities such as Rider exist to educate and inform students, and also provide a greater public good to create and share knowledge with the community as a whole. Rider University and its Department of Communication and Journalism have a long and strong legacy of educating future media professionals. The administration of this university should support and encourage these academic and extra-curricular endeavors, not set up erratic, slapdash or increasingly systematic barriers to the important work that student media members perform in gathering and disseminating news and information.
Dr. Pamela Brown; Dr. David Dewberry; Dr. Bosah Ebo; Dr. Myra Gutin; Dr. Sheena Howard; Dr. Jackie Incollingo; Dr. Barry Janes; Dr. Shawn Kildea; Dr. Graham McKinley; Dr. Thomas Simonet; Dr. Minmin Wang; Dr. Allison Weidhaas; Dr. Nancy Wiencek; Dr. Yun Xia; Professor Scott Alboum; Professor Jeffrey Edelstein; Professor Jessi Oliano
Printed in the 11/08/17 issue.