Loyola University Chicago’s “Mission and Vision” is to be a “world-renowned urban center … that values freedom of inquiry.” In order to “protect and enhance” that “brand and reputation,” all faculty and staff are required to have any statements to any journalist — expressly including the student newspaper — pre-approved by a member of the university’s public relations staff.
Under the university’s “Media Relations Policy,” all “faculty and staff interacting with news media representatives” are required to “refer” any journalists “to the appropriate [University Marketing & Communications] team member for response,” and all “press releases and statements … will be routed through, approved, and disseminated by” that team member.
In other words, faculty may only communicate with the media, even the university’s own student newspaper, through or with the approval of a representative of the administration.
This isn’t just theoretical. The editorial board of the Loyola Phoenix explains that one of its reporters emailed professors to solicit their views about why Loyola’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs had an “above-average abundance of women” — likely a positive development from the university’s perspective, given the prominence of the national conversation on underrepresentation of women in STEM programs. Those inquiries provoked a bristling email from a Loyola public relations professional:
This is the third inquiry on this topic that has been forwarded my way, and I’ve been notified of several others. This is disrespectful and unacceptable. As I indicated in my email this morning (attached), I am the first point of contact for the Phoenix for University-related requests. I can get in touch with administration and faculty to answer your questions. I can work with Brian to answer your numbers questions (please send those along), and let me know of any other gaps in your story that I can facilitate fulfilling.
That’s not the only instance of frustration. The Phoenix shares that the policy means they have “one point of contact we’re allowed to talk to,” namely the public relations staff, which provides “often-vague language received only via email” with authorization to “[a]ttribute this to” the person the Phoenix sought to interview. They add: “That is, if we get a response at all” — and provide a list of questions that have gone unanswered by the university’s public relations team.
Their editors have a message for the university, explaining that the university is “more than a brand,” and that student journalists “perform a valuable function” in giving voice to the unique issues faced by Loyola students:
FIRE and PEN America also have a message for Loyola University Chicago. On Friday, FIRE and PEN America sent a letter, embedded below, to the university calling on its leadership to step back from its policy. If the institution’s mission is to serve as a center of unfettered inquiry and expression, a policy intended to “protect” that “brand” by instituting a system of censorship is flawed from the beginning.