President John Lahey expressed his displeasure with the current state of journalism last Wednesday at the Student Government Association (SGA) meeting. Lahey specifically mentioned his discontent with how outside media sources pick up stories from student media, especially The Chronicle.
“So I guess the challenge for us now is how in today’s world we can really have a good discussion with the students about important topics, but not have it be a press conference to the world, where I have absolutely no control,” Lahey said.
“I am less worried with personal liabilities and more with institutional liabilities. When the president speaks for good or ill, it reflects the entire university.”
Lahey informed those in attendance that he would not be able to talk about issues such as diversity in a public arena.
“Why should I come to a meeting like this to discuss with the students sensitive topics that are appropriate to discuss, but run the risk of that being reported, maybe accurately, or not accurately?” Lahey said. “I am convinced that the best way is not to sit with reporters from The Chronicle taking notes and Q30 recording it.”
The Internet, Lahey reasons, opens up a forum for the non-student population. “It doesn’t stop with the student newspaper, it is immediately sent electronically to all of the newspapers and wire services,” he said.
Lahey specifically cited a phone call he received last spring from the Connecticut Post, who asked him to field questions about an article written by The Chronicle. Lahey was unaware The Chronicle had a Web site, and said he did not get an opportunity to read the article before the Post contacted him. This was a cause of concern for Lahey.
“What was decided (last year) was that the electronic version would come out at the same time as the hard-copy version so at least dinosaurs like me who read the hard copy version get an opportunity to read it before the external world hears about it,” Lahey said.
In late August, The Chronicle approached the administration about posting an article relating to the racial slur incident that occurred on campus in the first week of the semester. With The Chronicle’s first issue set to be distributed on Sept. 12, the Internet post would have violated the agreement between the Quinnipiac administration and student newspaper.
“My reaction was absolutely no,” Lahey said, regarding The Chronicle’s request. “The student newspaper is for students. It should come out when it normally comes out.”
The president said that The Chronicle was calling the restriction a violation of their first amendment rights, but he believes they are wrong.
“This is not a first amendment issue,” Lahey said. “This is an issue of how a university campus can have serious discussions with students in a way that is not a press conference to the world.”
On Sept. 19, an op-ed published in The Chronicle and written by Editor in Chief Jason Braff, criticized the university’s policy regarding The Chronicle Web site and the school’s Fred Friendly First Amendment Award. At the SGA meeting, Lahey took issue with the Sept. 19 article.
“I knew Fred, he was a friend of mine,” Lahey said. “So I don’t need to be lectured about the first amendment and what it means.”
After the administration told The Chronicle they were not allowed to post the story about the racial incident on their Web site, The Chronicle informed them of their intent to distribute the story on campus on single sheets of paper. The president offered a compromise with the newspaper, saying he would meet with them. That interview resulted in a front page story in the Sept. 12 issue of The Chronicle.
The president called that article “largely well-written” but said it had focused too much on the speed of the university’s response, whether the police had been contacted and whether Hamden police knew about the incident on campus.
“We have Hamden police on this campus,” he said. “The [Hamden Police] commissioner, I assume he is dealing with mass murders and other things happening in Hamden.”
Lahey also said The Chronicle misrepresented what he said in the interview. “It was an issue where I was quoted incorrectly, saying that ‘Lahey doesn’t care if it was a crime or not,'” Lahey said. “What I said was, actually I did say that, but they left out the other part. I said ‘I didn’t know,’ I didn’t say ‘I didn’t care.'”
He explained further: “What I said was I didn’t care about it because I know that what happened is so serious an event that the student would be thrown out of the university without any appeal to come back.”
The full quote from President Lahey that ran on The Chronicle on Sept. 12 reads as follows: “I don’t know if it was a crime or not, but it doesn’t matter. It was sufficiently bad the student would be expelled from the university, and what happens after that, we really don’t care.”
Lahey reiterated that it would be risky for him, as a representative of the university, to speak with students publicly with any sort of student media present.
“I frankly don’t want to talk about diversity in this kind of forum, or anything else that is remotely sensitive and not purely factual,” Lahey said. “But I am open to exploring with student government how the student body can have serious discussions about sensitive matters, and not open to newspaper reporting, for factual purposes.”
On Thursday, Oct. 18, the day after President Lahey addressed SGA, Lynn Bushnell, the university’s Vice President for Public Affairs sent a memorandum to the president’s cabinet outlining existing policies regarding media access to administrators. The memo stresses that administrators must inform the Office of Public Affairs if they are speaking to any media outlets. The policy also applies to the student media at Quinnipiac.