In a victory for freedom of the press, Ithaca College President Tom Rochon announced this week that a restrictive media policy implemented early last month has now been rescinded. The controversial policy had required all student media outlets seeking to interview Ithaca administrators to route their requests through the college’s Office of Media Relations.
Writing about the policy last month, FIRE’s Joe Cohn called the policy "misguided," observing that:
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.
President Rochon had sought to justify the policy by noting that it only applied when a student journalist sought comment on "college policies or developments." But as Joe wrote:
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.
I was gratified to hear that there had been no issues with the actual implementation of the policy. In its day-to-day operation the policy succeeded in its intended purpose of facilitating interviews with appropriate story sources. However, those I met with helped clarify for me the depth of anxiety that has been expressed about the policy by some students and faculty. They perceive it as being a potential barrier to effective interactions with a large number of administrators and to the learning process for student journalists. The policy was also perceived to be a means for the administration to be less transparent with the campus community. Though this was neither the intention nor the impact of the policy, the widespread presence of such perceptions provided me with a better understanding of why it has taken on a negative symbolic weight.
I discussed with campus media representatives several options for moving forward that could mitigate those negative perceptions, including the possibility of limiting the number of administrators to whom the policy would apply. Ultimately, however, I have come to the conclusion that simply fine-tuning the policy will not resolve the perception that its true purpose was to make it more difficult to observe and report on Ithaca College news.
Therefore, effective immediately, I am rescinding the policy.
Kudos to President Rochon for getting it right and to the committed students at Ithaca College for making sure he did. FIRE especially thanks Ithaca student and Buzzsaw magazine editor Carly Sitzer for bringing the policy to our attention.