STAFF EDITORIAL: Sexual Misconduct, Street Crime and now Coronavirus. Why do Loyola’s Leaders Avoid Our Questions?

Zack Miller | The Phoenix

The COVID-19 pandemic has plagued our country and — besides the death, sorrow and suffering it’s wielded — has forced heartbroken students to return home, take online classes and say farewell to friends. But Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney can’t come to the phone to talk about it.

Reporters have requested to interview Rooney over the phone and through email on several occasions but have been rejected.

“Dr. Rooney is devoting her time to students and university operations in these extraordinary circumstances,” said a university spokesperson when a reporter from The Phoenix repeatedly requested to talk to the president about how Loyola is handling COVID-19.

But Rooney surely isn’t devoting her time to students at The Phoenix, so we can get you, our readers, the information you need in this time of uncertainty and crisis. 

Loyola hasn’t been untouched by the coronavirus. March 21, Loyola students received an email saying one of our own had tested positive for COVID-19. Aside from saying the student hadn’t been on campus in the past two weeks, the email didn’t give much information.

When pressed, officials didn’t give much, either. They wouldn’t answer specific questions on the case, including where or when the student contracted the virus.

The student’s privacy should be protected, there’s no question about that. But the other Loyola students and staff deserve to know if they were potentially exposed to the virus.

Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump berated and shut down a PBS NewsHour reporter for what he called a “threatening” question. We know this feeling. When a Phoenix editor confronted a university spokesperson for not replying to tough questions, the spokesperson said they “reject the premise” that the university isn’t working to get questions answered.

Rooney can’t even make time for a five-minute phone call and the emails from her PR staff are vague and confusing. Instead, students’ email inboxes are filled with motivational messages that feel like false unity. The emails from Rooney and her staff hardly include the information or answers we need. They’re meant to keep the image of the school squeaky-clean without responding in the way a real leader should — with real answers to questions. 

We can’t say we’re surprised. We’ve seen this sort of secrecy before.

Loyola does the bare minimum to keep its livelihood — the students — aware of what’s going on.

From sexual misconduct, to street crime near campus and now a global pandemic affecting the university, the administration — overseen by Rooney — won’t give reporters the time of day. We’re often sent to school spokespeople who email us a curated and often watered-down statement, if anything at all.

In a time like this, thorough communication is key. And we, an editorial board comprised of students, believe Loyola could do much, much better at keeping us informed. We pay a large sum of money to attend this school and we deserve up-to-date information and top-notch resources.

Other students agree. A few weeks ago, we asked our Instagram followers which questions they wanted us to get answered by Loyola officials. They had the same questions we do: Where did the infected student contract the disease? What does the campus shutdown mean for student workers?

We’ve been trying to get these answers for weeks to no avail.

This isn’t how a leader should act. When things get tough, our leaders have the chance to prove themselves. Rooney and her administration have proven themselves unfit to lead a great school like Loyola.

Look around the country. You’ll see mayors and governors speaking to the public every single day about the state of affairs in this stressful and terrifying time. Where has Rooney been? She has the same responsibility. And she’s failed us as students.

Other universities have stepped up and gained their students’ trust.

A faculty member at DePaul University contracted the virus, university officials announced March 18. The university sent two letters updating the community on the confirmed case. In the updates, school officials provided specifics, including the address and department where the faculty member worked.

Officials from other Jesuit universities, such as Saint Louis University, have continuously emailed students, employees and parents with frequent updates, including information about students living off-campus who had been tested for the virus.

We’ve been told the coronavirus is a problem much bigger than Loyola. That much is clear. But our school leaders have a responsibility to keep their students informed — and more importantly, safe.

Loyola hasn’t gone the extra mile in a time when we need it most.

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