Staff Editorial

STAFF EDITORIAL: Response to Editorial Shows Rooney on the Wrong Side of Free Speech

Murillo B. Gonçalves | Loyola University Chicago

During last week’s Pizza with the President, an event hosted by Loyola’s President Jo Ann Rooney, she brought up our critical staff editorial published Feb. 13. 

The editorial argued Loyola’s media policy is detrimental to the entire Loyola community. 

She defended the policy’s implementation, mandates and purpose. She also claimed The Phoenix’s “inaccurate reporting” has put the university at risk — a claim that seems to have little weight.

By doing this in a meeting students are barred from, Rooney addressed the editorial and the university’s media policy with virtually everyone except those who deserved a response most — The Phoenix.

Our editor-in-chief, Henry Redman, reached out to Rooney Thursday inviting her to speak on-the-record with The Phoenix’s Editorial Board in order to respond to the editorial and any questions the board might have. 

The following Monday, Rooney responded to his email, but ignored the request for an on-the-record meeting with the Editorial Board.

But why won’t she go on the record? Why won’t she address The Phoenix’s Editorial Board — and by extension, the student body? Why will she only meet with one representative from The Phoenix? 

More unanswered questions

Instead, she made two invitations of her own to “foster dialogue.” She said the university is creating a “task force” to evaluate the policy. Rooney is attempting to make this go away without committing to any real change. She’s hoping the problem gets lost in the same shuffle as past seemingly useless task forces

She wants this issue handled without public scrutiny. As a newspaper, we disagree.

In her response, she also stated The Phoenix has been a liability for “inaccurate reporting.”

In so many words, she called us fake news. She’s now one step shy of tipping the scale to echo Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.

“Accuracy matters, and in the case of the Phoenix, the University is liable and has been held liable for inaccurate reporting,” Rooney wrote.

But what inaccuracies is she referring to? And how has Loyola been held liable?

We asked. Unanswered.

Loyola is shooting the messenger over what it sees as negative press. But it’s Rooney and her administration’s actions regarding our campus’ most pertinent issues — such as crime near campus and sexual assault — that are liabilities to the well-being of every Loyola student. 

We asked why an attack on a student near campus wasn’t reported to the student body. Unanswered

We asked how many sexual assaults on students during the 2016-17 academic year resulted in disciplinary action against the alleged perpetrators. Unanswered.

We gave the university the opportunity to respond with integrity. By ignoring our request for an open conversation, Rooney only digs a deeper hole.

Last week’s editorial gained national traction, with national and local news outlets such as Newsweek, Politico, NBC 5 and WBEZ 91.5 reporting on our discourse with the university. 

Even some of our own professors in Loyola’s School of Communication started a petition in support of student journalism and free press. 

“Preventing faculty from interacting directly with media in general and student media in particular, constitutes an abridgement of our right to speak,” the petition reads.

The widespread support of our stance shows that Loyola is on the wrong side of this issue. It’s just a matter of when it’ll get on the right side of it. 

In response to Loyola’s media policy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) penned a letter to Rooney calling on Loyola to rescind the policy.

It also calls into question Loyola’s accreditation and insinuates Loyola is violating the National Labor Relations Act by not allowing professors to freely talk to the media.

In our last editorial, we outlined our concerns but no solutions. We believe Loyola’s media policy only needs four sentences. 

Be truthful. Be transparent. Be accountable. Be accessible. 

If the media policy is meant to work toward efficient communication between reporters and the university, then our deadlines need to be met, and the opportunity for follow-up questions must be honored. 

This isn’t just a student issue. As stated in the School of Communication faculty petition, university employees feel as if they’re being unnecessarily monitored.

As one professor put it, being forced to go through University Marketing and Communications feels like being “chaperoned” — a feeling validated by FIRE.

“The policy inappropriately limits faculty members’ freedom of expression,” the petition reads. 

Loyola should trust its hired members — faculty, staff, heads of departments — enough to allow them to speak on their fields of expertise. 

The media policy, according to the university, is meant to protect and promote its brand. In the past week, it seems to us, the media policy has only increased negative coverage of the school — exactly the type of publicity the administration was trying to avoid by implementing the policy in the first place.

At this point, Loyola’s administration has been criticized for its media policy by more than just students. It’s been criticized by professional journalists, a free speech watchdog group, its own faculty members and more. Jo Ann Rooney and her employees have the opportunity to listen and respond with integrity. 

Until now, they haven’t.

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