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Rachel de Leon, associate producer with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, explains how the CIR's RevealNews.org uncovered exaggerations in colleges' claims about equal athletic opportunities for women, and how reporters can use federal disclosure forms to break stories on their own campuses. Frank LoMonte: I’m Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, thanks for joining us for another edition of the SPLC’s monthly podcast, where we run down legal tips of interest to those working in student media. Our guest today is Rachel de Leon of the Center for Investigative Reporting, who’s part of a team that investigated the compliance of the UCLA athletic department, looking at their federal disclosure reports about women’s athletic participation and examining whether in fact those statistics bore out in reality. Rachel is a graduate of California State University-Northridge, with a master’s degree in documentary film from the UC-Berkeley School of Journalism. She’s on the staff of the Center for Investigative Reporting, which publishes its work at RevealNews.org. CIR is a nonprofit organization that’s been around since 1977 doing some very high-end, donor-supported journalism work, and we encourage you to check out all their projects online at RevealNews.org. Rachel, thanks for joining us and get us started with how the idea for the project came about and in particular, was there a reason UCLA was chosen?Rachel de Leon: Thank you so much for having me on. UCLA was chosen because we know we wanted to look into this thing called ‘roster management,’ and one of the lead producers for the Title IX show suggested this as something she had been reading up on. There’s actually a really good New York Times article, I think it was in 2009 or 2011, all about roster management, and they looked into many, many schools and found out that many of them were inflating their female athletic numbers and doing kinda funny stuff like counting male practice players as women, which is totally allowed and actually required by the Department of Education. So the reason why we looked into UCLA is because I was able to download the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Report on the [Department of Education] website, which is something you’re able to do when you click “Get data for one institution.” I was able to sort the data just by rowing for women, and I saw that the top three schools on there with the largest rowing teams were the University of Alabama, University of Wisconsin, and UCLA came in third. So we started looking into UCLA because they also had a large number of male practice players being counted as women, which again is not unique to UCLA; Alabama has the same, as do many other schools. The reason why we decied to focus on UCLA was, the timing was right, they had a race coming up nearby and so I went to a race and saw myself that there was nowhere near the 127 [athletes] that they reported on their EADA report, which alone would not put them out of compliance or wasn’t a huge red flag. But just after talking with some of the parents there, I realized that the number that they were putting at the entire team was closer to 50 and that matched their online roster, so that was a big discrepancy. I began to wonder, “Where are all those other rowers?” So that was what began the quest.Frank LoMonte: You mentioned the EADA. For those who haven’t worked with this before, the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act is a federal law that Congress passed as an amendment to Title IX back in 1994, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It is a requirement that colleges annually file with the Department of Education a disclosure report that can be a real gold mine for journalists investigating college athletics. It has an entire tab that looks at participation by sport, by men and women, as well as what coaches are paid for coaching men’s and women’s teams as well as the revenue and expenditures for each sport. It’s impossible to read one of these reports and not get at least one story idea out of it. But as Rachel and the team at the Center for Investigative Reporting found, your reporting only begins with those disclosure forms. You have to sometimes look behind the disclosure forms to see if the numbers are too good to be true. And I should mention that these forms are posted by the U.S. Department of Education on a centralized website, but there are, at times, lags in the Department’s updating that database. Those should be available on request from the individual institutions; federal law requires them to make them available on demand. So if your institution’s report isn’t up there for some reason, or if it looks to be out of date, go to the institution itself and ask for it. Going forward in your story, Rachel – you get this idea, your eyeballs don’t match what the statistics are telling you. You’re seeing that in fact the number of participants on the team is nothing like what the university is claiming. So then, how do you go about verifying your suspicions, and what roadblocks and impediments did you run into?Rachel de Leon: The EADA report, I kept hearing from people, is like the first line of defense against unequal treatment of female athletes. But whenever you talk to former Office for Civil Rights investigators, people who actually know a lot about this – I talked to compliance experts – they’ll tell you the EADA report is pretty useless when it comes to people actually trying to figure out how many athletes are participating on a team. So where they go instead is, they look at something called the NCAA squad list. And that squad list is going to have much more detailed information such as whether a player or participant left the team midyear, when they came on the team, whether they’re redshirted for eligibility, if they’re medically retired. So there are these key differences in what might is put on an EADA report and what an investigator might look at for Title IX compliance purposes. We had to be very careful in making sure that in our piece we never said that UCLA or any other school was out of compliance, because that is something that only the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights can determine. You do have to be very careful with that, and the EADA on the home page does make very clear that these are not necessarily the same numbers that would be used for Title IX purposes. So putting that disclaimer out there, the next step I had to do after looking at the online roster and then looking at the EADA report was to request under a California Public Records Act request for the NCAA squad list. And it took about a month for them to get it back to me. The records department at UCLA requested, not an extension but they told me how long it would take because they had to go outside departments. And what I got back from them, about a month later I think it was, was a letter explaining what they were giving me and the redactions they were making. And then I got the document back with the redactions, and they redacted almost the entire page for all 94 pages. The only information they left on there was the total number of scholarships they were giving out and the total amount of scholarship aid. Otherwise, everything was blacked out. I had no names. In fact, the document didn’t even come with signatures, which makes no sense, because the reason why they were telling us they were redacting the document was for student privacy. They were claiming that this would violate personal privacy laws and also this would be revealing student information that would be protected by FERPA. So when I saw that, my editor and I discussed how we were going to challenge this, and we challenged it on the basis that, you know, anyone who’s going to be on the NCAA squad list would probably be on the team as an athlete. For the football team, for instance, these players have online bios that go really detailed into their height, their weight – very personal information is given up in these online rosters. So we argued that the privacy there is not an issue. Their names are posted everywhere – it’s on the back of their jerseys. We should be able to see that. And then we also argued that by not giving us the signatures on each of these – for every sport, typically you would see a signature at the end of every page signing off on when the document was finalized and who was signing off on it. Because there were no signatures, to me this did not indicate that it was an original document. So I argued that I would like to see the signatures to verify that it was a true and real document. And sure enough, we got a response back from them, it must have been maybe one or two weeks later – just a few days before we had to wrap the show – and they gave us the names. They still did block out lots of other information, like what status the athlete has, whether they’re redshirted or not, whether they’re medically retired, what year they are – I have no idea what years any of these people are – but having the names was enough to go off of. So at that point I just started calling as many people as I could who were on the squad list but not on the online roster. Frank LoMonte: Just for people whose mouths are hanging open right now at the possibility that the names of people participating in competitive intercollegiate athletics could conceivably be withheld as a matter of FERPA confidentiality, there are several answers to this, common sense being only one of them. There is actually a recognized exception in the federal FERPA privacy statute for participation in interscholastic activities like athletics. The names of people on a sports team or a debating team – any type of extracurricular activity – is not covered by federal FERPA confidentiality, so FERPA is never the right answer when a journalist seeks access to records containing those names. Now, California happens to have a uniquely broad state privacy statute that works as an overlay like belt and suspenders over FERPA. There are those who believe the California statute is even broader than FERPA. It’s yet to be tested in court the way FERPA has. We certainly believe that the two of them should be read to be congruent, but that has yet to be borne out one way or the other in court. Nevertheless, what Rachel and her colleague Julia Chan at CIR did was really very clever. You can read their work at RevealNews.org under the headline, “Ridiculous Redactions: How UCLA Blocked Access to Documents.” What they did brilliantly was to obtain comparable records from another college, which showed that other colleges routinely do give out the rosters of competitive athletes, without any privacy concerns whatsoever. Having shown that to UCLA, it helped break the logjam, so bravo for that masterstroke. Rachel de Leon: Thank you, yeah, we weren’t sure whether it was going to come through but it was a rather pleasant and shocking surprise. Frank LoMonte: So you’re able to find out by both viewing this roster document and following up with your own interviewing that in fact the numbers claimed by UCLA on their gender equity report didn’t bear much relation to reality and that in fact active participation was a fraction of the number of female rowers claimed. So what happens next? You take this information to UCLA, and what are the consequences and the results?Rachel de Leon: We sent UCLA our findings, and at that point in time I told them at that time that we had 30-something people who said that they were never on the team but are listed on the NCAA squad list. There was a difference of three, so on the NCAA squad list there were 130 names, and as I mentioned on the EADA report there were 127. So I knew that for some reason they weren’t counting three people, but the fact that I had way more than three people who were saying they were not on the team was a pretty important finding, I thought. And their response to us was that everyone listed on the NCAA squad list is a participant per the EADA guidelines, and of course I pushed back on them. They and I were looking at the same document, which is something called the EADA Report Guidelines, and I think they put this out every year. So I was looking at the most recent one, and there are three ways that a school can count a student-athlete as a participant on this report – which are different, again, for Title IX purposes, but we’re just focusing on gender equity here. The three ways are, number one, you are on the varsity team roster, your name is listed on the roster as to the first day of the scheduled contest, which is different for every team. So the first way is, you are listed on the roster. The second way is, you are receiving athletically related student aid – a scholarship, basically. And then the third would be that you are practicing with the varsity team and receiving training from the coaches. So for these people who told me – many people told me that they only went to practices, maybe they didn’t even complete them all the way – but a lot of them went to the practices but were ultimately told that they were not on the team. The way that they were told is, there was a list that was distributed with names of people that had made it on the team, and their name wasn’t on it. So for those people I pushed back on UCLA and I said, “How would you consider these people to be a participant, given these three ways that the Department of Education lists out,” and I never got a response back from them. So that was where it landed.Frank LoMonte: Were you able to conclude, either through your own reporting or through consulting with the U.S. Department of Education, whether it is in fact legal for a college to count somebody as a team participant when perhaps their involvement was limited to just showing up for an initial tryout and not making the team?Rachel de Leon: I am working on that right now. Unfortunately, I continue to not get any specific response back from the Department of Education. They have told me a couple of times, they just refer me back to this guide, that if any of these students meet any of these qualifications, then they’re a participant. And I pushed back a few times asking whether someone who tries out for the team and doesn’t make it could be considered a participant, and unfortunately I think from what I’m gathering is, there is a lot that’s open for interpretation. The Department of Education doesn’t say that, when you count people as of the first day of the scheduled contest, it doesn’t say what time of the year that has to happen. They have a few requirements as far as like, it has to count toward something, it can’t just be a practice, it can’t just be a scrimmage that doesn’t count for any points or any kind of moving forward. But yeah, they haven’t responded specifically to my question yet: how can the school count someone that tries out for the team and doesn’t make it? It sounds like they leave that up to the school. Maybe the “varsity roster” is up for interpretation in terms of, “is that just the NCAA squad list?” If so, then I guess they are considered a participant. But I think most people – again, common sense here – if you’re not on the team practicing and you yourself don’t consider yourself to be on the team, I don’t know how that’s a “participant.” Frank LoMonte: Sure, and the purpose of Title IX was to maximize opportunities for women to have meaningful participation in athletics, and it’s a valid question whether a single tryout or practice could qualify as meaningful participation. It’s also fascinating to learn that men can be counted as participants on women’s athletic teams, and that in fact the U.S. Department of Education seems to have sanctioned and blessed that interpretation. Can you talk just a little bit more about that? Why would it make sense that a man who joins the basketball practice squad to help them fill out the practice squad for the women’s team counts as a participant in women’s basketball?Rachel de Leon: I talked to several compliance experts about this, and this was the one thing that people kind of agreed about, which is that this doesn’t really make any sense. Schools kind of have their hands tied, in that if they do decide to use a practice squad, it does look like the EADA report guidelines are very clear and they say that you have to count them as a female participant. So when you look at that EADA report that I’ve mentioned for the current year, which is uploaded to their main page, and you look at the boxes you’ll see a number just for the basketball team, for instance, like 36 – that was for UCLA. And when you look at that, you don’t think to yourself, “I wonder how many men are in that?” You probably think to yourself, “Okay, there’s 36 women on the team.” And then you scroll down and you see the total participation numbers, and that 36 is going into that. However, there is a caveat box on the bottom where schools are supposed to list how many male practice players they have on women’s teams that they’re counting as women. So they’re doing that, but ultimately those caveat boxes get lost in history. So when you start downloading the archived Excel sheets for schools, when I looked at the previous years – for instance, 2013 and 2014 – I no longer have a way of knowing how many men were on the women’s teams. Now, I’ve been told by the Department of Education that I can go and request those caveat boxes for previous years and that would be available to me. But for me, the point was that it’s not available online and it’s counted in the total participation numbers. So I thought that would be really hard for your average parent or student to figure that out, if they’re trying to make a case to add a team for your daughter or yourself. So yeah, everyone seemed to be on the same page that this made no sense why they’re counted as female participants and I don’t know the reasoning behind it. I mean, I guess [to] the Department of Education, because they’re receiving practice from the coaches and training from the coaches, that makes them a participant. But they’re not allowed to receive athletic aid and they’re not listed on the online roster at all.Frank LoMonte: We have to wrap up the discussion there, but again I want to encourage everyone to visit the Center for Investigative Reporting’s website RevealNews.org to look up the series on gender equity in athletics. Rachel de Leon, associate producer for the Center for Investigative Reporting, thanks so much for sharing these useful tips with us and thanks for the enterprising work in looking behind these Equity in Athletics disclosure reports. Rachel de Leon: Thank you, Frank, for having me on, I’m very grateful and happy to talk about this.Frank LoMonte: For those of you with more interest in any type of investigative public records journalism on campus, we hope you’ll check out the resources available to you on the Student Press Law Center’s website, www.splc.org, follow us on Twitter @SPLC , and send along any questions you’ve got about your own legal rights through our email hotline, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll talk to you next month.
SPLC Director Frank LoMonte speaks with Justin Hemlepp, the attorney representing Knight News, an independent student news outlet at the University of Central Florida, in their FOIA lawsuit against the university.
Judith Wilde and James Finkelstein join SPLC for this month's Podcast to discuss the troubling trend of public universities hiring private head-hunting firms to conduct presidential searches in secret. Wilde and Finkelstein, both working from the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, recently released the result of their own research breaking down the details of private search firm contracts for high-level executive positions at college and universities across the country.Frank LoMonte: Hi everyone, and thanks for joining us for another monthly installment of the Student Press Law Center’s Podcast, a rundown on developments in the law affecting the rights of journalists to gather and publish the news.I’m Frank LoMonte, director of the Student Press Law Center. We’re online at splc.org and reachable by email: email@example.com with any questions about your legal rights as a journalist. One of the recurring issues with which the Student Press law Center deals is journalists’ ability to meaningfully cover the selection of college and university presidents. In many communities this is the most powerful government official and one increasingly impervious to public accountability as a result of the secretive way in which presidents are selected. In recent years, the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Wisconsin have taken formerly open presidential search processes behind closed doors. In the absence of clear legal mandates to open presidential searches, abuses have proliferated, most notably at Louisiana State University where trustees literally defied a court order to disclose the names of applicants for the vacant presidency, daring a state court judge to imprison them for contempt from which they were spared when an appeals court split the difference and required only the disclosure of a limited number of candidates.In Washington State University, recently, in order to avoid compliance with laws requiring the open selection of presidential candidates, the board actually assigned code names to the candidates and made the offer amongst presidential candidates A, B, and C.What is going on, here? Why are these powerful government positions being filled behind closed doors? Well, our guests are here to address this. They’re two expert researchers from George Mason University who spent many years looking at the way college and university presidents are selected, and we’re so pleased to be joined by James Finkelstein and Judith Wilde. Doctor Wilde is the chief operating officer at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. She’s previously taught at George Washington University, New Mexico Highlands University, and the University of New Mexico from which she holds Ph.D. in educational foundations.Doctor Finkelstein is Professor Emeritus of public policy at George Mason University. He has held a variety of academic administrative positions at GMU. He was the founding vice dean at the school of public policy, associate dean at the college of education and much more. Both of them have been widely published and quoted on the subject of the secrecy of the presidential selection process and the increasing reliance on private head-hunting firms to hire these powerful chief executives. So, James Finkelstein and Judith Wilde, thanks so much for being here with us and I’m going to ask James to please get us started by just talking about this issue in general, about why does this matter to the public? Why should we care that these chief executive positions at universities are being elected through the use of private search firms rather than, as might have been true a generation ago, through committees of people on the campus holding open public meetings.James Finkelstein: Frank, thanks for having us, and we’re pleased to be part of the Student Press Law Center’s Podcast. Just want to say that your work is extremely important, and in fact it’s more important today than ever before. Helping young and aspiring journalists to understand both their First Amendment rights as well as their responsibilities is really essential in preserving and promoting our democracy. So, thanks for all the work that you do in this regard.Let me try to respond to your question this way. According to recent Gallup surveys, the public trust in our various institutions in our society has been eroding over the last several decades. This is true whether it’s government, the media, banks, business, religion, just to name a few. In fact, in looking at the most recent survey, the only institution in our society that enjoys more than 50% of the public’s trust is the military.And while Gallup doesn’t track the public’s confidence in our universities, there’s some reason to be optimistic there, because a recent Princeton study found that over 60% of Americans still believe that a college education’s a good investment. Although I have to note that that’s down from nearly 85% just five years ago. Some speculate the reason for this decline in the public trust in our universities is, as you suggested before, they’re behaving more and more like corporations. Some use the term the “corporatization” of higher education. I’ve spent nearly 30 years as a university administrator and nearly two decades studying various aspects of the university presidency, and I have to tell you I tend to agree with those critics. And I really think that the use of executive search firms is probably a good case study to prove this point.Let me take your listeners through just a little bit of background. There’s an organization called the Association of Governing Boards which is a trade association for university trustees. They publish a book ever so often called “The Complete Guide to Presidential Searches for Universities and Colleges,” and let me just quote the opening sentence from their book:They say “Few moments have more consequence for a college and university than the selection of a new president,” and they go on to say that the legal responsibility for electing a president is born solely by the governing boards. You said in your introduction that in the good old days, a search for president was a joint effort of trustees, the faculty, alumni, maybe some students, members of the community. And back probably when you or I were in school, if search firms existed at all they were only involved in a small handful of searches and probably only at private universities. But today, the vast majority of presidential searches; and not just searches for presidents, we’re finding this with searches for provosts, deans, and other senior administrators; are being conducted with the assistance of these executive search firms. So, what we’re saying is that trustees, when looking for a president, are really outsourcing their most important and primary responsibilities, and we’d say that universities are also beginning to outsource this responsibility on almost a wholesale basis. So, what are the implications of this in terms of public policy or the public interest? Well, we’ve just completed a large study, the first of its kind, looking at the contracts between executive search firms and public universities. Judith’s going to talk a little bit about the specific findings, but let me just give you an idea of the issues that arose from our research.Probably the first and most obvious reason that people should be concerned is the cost of these search firms. The typical fees alone, not including reimbursement for expenses, for a presidential search runs well into the six-figures. In many cases these fees are on what we call a contingency basis, that is it’s a percentage of the first-year compensation of a president. Sometimes that compensation isn’t just their salary. It could be their bonuses, it could be the value of their deferred compensation, it could include other things as well. In those cases where a search firms is getting, most often, a third of that first-year total compensation, you could have a fee that’s in the $200-250,000 range. We found one search, this happened to be in a medical center, where the search fee was $750,000. Just the fee. If you just look at a typical search fee, it could support about maybe 10-15 full-ride scholarships at in-state tuition rates today. And remember, this doesn’t include the expenses that the search firms get reimbursed for for travel and the like.So, cost is the first reason. The second reason, based on our research is that search firms are often contractually obligated to do some type of due diligence, and hopefully your listeners know what due diligence is, but it’s looking into the background of these folks. But the most surprising finding in our research was how little due diligence these search firms actually conduct. Judith will talk a little bit more about that as we go on.Another reason for concern is that the search firms actually participate in the screening of the candidates. When this happens, it means that the search firm can actually be favoring certain candidates over another. And in the case of a contingency contract, maybe they’re favoring the candidate that’s most likely to draw the highest compensation.And finally you need to remember that these search firms are private, for-profit entities. They exist to maximize the profits for their owners and investors, and that can often mean that their interests and the interests of the university may be divergent.So, those are some of the things that I think people should think about, the public should know about, in having search firms participate in hiring our university presidents today.Frank LoMonte: And I should add to that that it is often the search firms who are encouraging these college boards of regents and trustees to conduct the search in a secret, closed-door fashion rather than in an open fashion even when state laws seem to require openness.It has been the position of many of these search firms that “good people” will not apply in an open and above-board process where the public has meaningful participation, and we can talk a little bit more if we have a chance about whether that’s really proven to be the case or not, but certainly that’s the line that’s been advanced by these search firms which results in their being able to keep their own candidate list close to their vest and not expend their candidates in any public way.I do want to pivot to Judith and get her to talk a bit in more detail about the recently published research that looks at what universities are actually for their many hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional services. I think most of us would presume that there was some pretty rigorous background-checking going on for that kind of money, but in fact it turns out that that may infrequently be the case.Judith Wilde: Exactly, Frank, and that’s one of the major issues. So I’ll be really brief and succinct about some of the background of the research, but I think it’s important for everyone to understand where our data come from.We looked at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is one of the two or three major online and print sources for news and to search for a job. From September 2015 to January 2016, we identified 106 searches for presidents, chancellors, or provosts at public universities. We only looked at public because they’re the only ones that are required, really, to respond, or the most chance to respond to a request to see the documents that we needed to see. A FOIA request. So, we did send out the FOIA requests, and after several follow-ups, we found that 82 of these 106 searches did indeed use a search firm. by the time we got through things, we had 61 contracts at 60 colleges or universities. One college had two searches going on simultaneously. Most of these were four-year colleges. Most of the jobs were for president. There were 21 different search firms that were used with each of these having anywhere form one to nine searches ongoing at the same time.Some of the things that surprised us most were, for instance, the contracts themselves. Of those that we were able to get, well over half were prepared by the search firms and most of those were on the search firm’s letterhead. We did find that if there was a formal contract, it was much more likely to be prepared by the college or university itself.Very few of them actually had any kind of work plan. In fact it was only 36 out of 61 that actually had a work plan saying, “Here’s what we will do. Here’s the timeline. Here’s what you can expect as a deliverable.” Costs are what you asked about, and Jim mentioned $250,000 roughly value. We found that the initial fees varied from 25,000-160,000 with most of those, little over half, being firm-fixed price. However, what you have is, those are the basic fees. Then they have expenses, such as flying people in to interviews, anything of that sort. They have extra services, many of them say, “Our contract covers this much, if you want other services, then indeed we will charge you an extra fee.” And then on top of any of those is an administrative fee. So the total search ends up costing potentially much more than what it started out. In fact, we found one state in a different study we did, that spent $25 million over ten years just on searches.Looking at the services they provided, these actually were only listed specifically in 47 of the 61 contracts or agreements that we had, and that’s pretty surprising in and of itself. The most frequent regarded outreach and screening and scheduling with candidates. After that, everything else they did, it was less than half. Confidentiality was mentioned in every one of these, in some form or another. The firm had a policy about it, the institution had a policy about confidentiality. In about a third of the cases, the search committee located at the university had to sign a confidentiality agreement. And we’ve seen a few of these, and there are a few of them that actually basically threaten the faculty member with firing if they say anything. And in a quarter of them, the firm owns all the data. But here’s the one that you hit on Frank that really struck us, and that is the due diligence. Only half of them included reference checks among the services they automatically provided. None of them said they would do an on-list reference check with an additional fee, but half of them did on-list. That is, they would check people that the candidate said, “You should check this with this person about me.” Going off that list was offered by less than half as an included activity. None of them mentioned doing it with an additional fee. Degree checks only a quarter of them did automatically. Some of the contracts we saw, though, made it clear, for instance, in some cases that they would use public sources to identify and check a degree. Well, I have my own website. I can put any degree on there I want. So, if they only check that as a public source, that’s not much. Criminal reports were rarely checked. Credit reports were rarely checked. There really was not much checking, and along with that, there was virtually no indemnification. There were very hard to get out of anything from this once the contract was set. So, that’s a really quick overview.Frank LoMonte: Yeah, and two pointers for the college journalists who are listening. Pointer one, if you’re at a public institution by all means, whenever there is a high profile search going on do use your state public records act to obtain the contract with the head-hunting or search firm and any accompanying documents such as these confidentially agreements that members of the search committee may be required to sign.We saw this, for example, at Kent State University several years ago when they went through their presidential search and actually ordered the members of the search committee to shred all of the notes that they created specifically so as to avoid the risk of being served with a request for public records that might turn up the identities of candidates other than the ones selected.The oner pointer is, this phenomenon goes directly to the secrecy issue in that many candidates seem to be selected without their current campus having been thoroughly questioned about their performance. This whole idea of sparing people the embarrassment or humiliation or loss of face of being selected in a public process depends upon the assumption that no one involved with the search is actually going to make calls to their current employer, which of course would alert the current employer that they’re a candidate. And the idea that someone could be hired for a position as powerful and responsible as president of a university without anyone speaking with their current employer other that the people listed who’ve been approved as references on their own resume is a rather scary one. And let me ask Jim to jump in, there. Is the outsourcing and corporatizing of this search process a part of a bigger phenomenon about the CEO-ization of college presidencies and is that something that we should be concerned about?James Finkelstein: Well, Frank, yeah, I think you’re right about that. I mean, Judith and I completed another study this last spring looking at the structure of presidents’ contracts. this was an expanded follow-up to a study I did in 2010, so we had a basis of comparing the sophistication of contracts and any changes that we might have seen in that over the last five or six years.And there’s no question that we’re seeing an evolution in these employment agreements to more closely resemble those of a CEO. We’re seeing complex deferred compensation plans, bonus structures, parachutes, and the like. And there’s some emerging evidence to suggest that this increasing sophist action in value of these agreements is tied more and more to board members coming from the corporate sector. So, in that sense it probably isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that the use of search firms is just one more example of how corporate values and practices are being infused into our universities. So, let me use that as sort of a preface to talk about what I’d call “secret searches.” And I’ll acknowledge at the outset and accept the need for a certain degree of confidentiality in the search process, but really only up and to a point. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the name of every applicant and every nominee for a presidency to be made public. And I’m even willing to accept that confidentiality for what are commonly referred to as “airport interviews” or Skype interviews for sort of the first cut of candidates. But I’d say that once the finalists are identified, not only should their names be public, but they should be required to come to campus to be interviewed and make public presentations.And there are three reasons for this. First, I really can’t imagine someone being willing to accept a presidency on a campus they’ve never visited, and having only met members of a search committee. In fact, I’d argue that anyone willing to accept a position on that basis, can’t possibly be the right person to do the job.Second, since we know from our research that search firms conduct limited due diligence at best, why not subject candidates to the most thorough form of due diligence that exists, the faculty. I can tell you based on my experience as an administrator that they are the single most efficient and comprehensive source of information. They have vast networks across disciplines and across institutions.But I think the really reason for these increasing demands for secrecy is not so much for the protection of candidates, as we’re often told by the search firms, but, as you suggested a moment ago, protecting the interests of the search firm. Think of it this way: If it becomes widely known who was a finalist for several searches and wasn’t selected, a search firm could have a hard time placing that candidate. So it’s in their interest to keep all of the names secret, making every candidate a fresh face in the next search. That makes the candidate a lot more attractive. I’m almost certain that the public would never tolerate this type of search process for other senior public executives. Because, after all, that’s what a public university president is. Every cabinet secretary in a state goes through some public review process. So do agency heads. So, it’s unclear why the heads of our public universities, who as you noted are the most highly paid public executives in a state, should be appointed in secret.It’s contrary to the values of our universities and it simply doesn’t serve the public interest.Frank LoMonte: Just with the couple of minutes that we have left, let me ask Judith to just address what’s the public policy solution to this? Should there be statues that foreclose reliance on head-hunting firms entirely. Should the entire process be open by legislative fiat, should there be some hybrid process. What do you think is the right balanceJudith Wilde: I think in general, Frank you’re going to look at a hybrid process of some type. But we have found that the state of Illinois actually by statue only allows search firms for presidential searches. that’s as of about a year ago. I’d also say there’s a difference between transparency and disclosure. And in my mind because these are public universities, funded by the public, that the contracts should be open and available so that anybody can look at the contracts for these search firms and move on from there. And once we have some of that public seeing the contracts it may lead to some changes in the indemnification language, in the due diligence language and so on.James Finkelstein: As Justice Brandeis said, I’m certain these young journalists know, sunlight is the best disinfectant.Frank LoMonte: That’s a great way to close the discussion. And so, I want to thank Judith Wilde and James Finkelstein for joining us this month on the Student Press Law Center’s Podcast. Real quick, where could somebody go to read about your research?Judith Wilde: They can go to my website; shortly, I’m in the process of redoing it; but it’s betagroupconsulting.comFrank LoMonte: Terrific. Well, we’ll make sure and share that link as well. We hope anyone with questions about their rights to access to presidential search meetings, records and other information will feel free to contact the Student Press Law Center. We’re online at www.splc.org, reachable through email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @SPLC. Thanks again to George Mason University’s Judith Wilde and James Finkelstein for their work and for joining us this month. And thank you for joint us, as well. We’ll look forward to talking to you next month.
Last year, Texas A&M's student newspaper, The Battalion, produced a groundbreaking investigative report that traced their university's foundation investments to conflicts in Sudan and exploitive mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo among other human rights tragedies. This month, Frank talks with Texas A&M student and Betty Gage Holland Award-winning Battalion reporter, Spencer Davis, along with incoming editor in chief, Samantha King, about the three-month investigation.Frank: Hi, everyone, and welcome to another installment of the Student Press Law Center’s monthly Podcast to catch up on developments in the news affecting your right to gather and publish information. The Student Press Law Center’s a nonprofit advocate for the rights of student journalists. We’re online at splc.org and we hope you’ll call or email us with any questions about your own legal rights of access.Well, university foundations are important drivers of policy on campuses, but they exist in a shadowy nether-region between public and private. Even though the state universities that host them are subject to a variety of state disclosure laws, their foundations often take the position that they are exempt by virtue of being incorporated as nonprofit corporations.These entities control literally many tens of billions of dollars in donor’s investments, Harvard University alone holds investments in excess of $30 billion, and the University of Texas at Austin in excess of $25 billion. And yet, many of them resist opening their board meetings or their records to public scrutiny.Well, a team of student journalists at Texas A&M University did remarkable work in holding their foundation accountable, using publicly available documents to examine the way that their university invested its money and whether those investments were always chosen with the best public policy imperatives in mind.We’re joined by two student journalists from Texas A&M University, Spencer Davis, the reporter who works don this series of stories published in November of 2015 called, “A dark spot in Texas A&M’s Investments,” published in the Battalion in November 2015. And Samantha King, the incoming editor-in-chief at the Battalion who was news editor at the time.Both of these students are seniors at Texas A&M Spencer Davis is majoring in finance, Samantha King in communication. Samantha has ambitions to remain in the journalism field. Spencer, who just completed an internship on Capitol Hill with Senator John Cornyn, is interested in going into the political consulting field.And we welcome and thank both and congratulate them on having just been presented with the Betty Gage Holland Award, sponsored by the University of Georgia and co-sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, which recognizes outstanding public records journalism done by college students every year. So, with that, Spencer Davis can you take us into where the idea for this project, the “dark spot in Texas A&M’s investments,” came from. How did the concept come about and then how did you go about actually digging into these investments.Spencer Davis: Absolutely, so this wasn’t another story about best intentions and unintended consequences. It was a story about, really willful ignorance in what we are investing in. It was very global to begin with. The idea came about in a conversation last August where I was talking with a friend who at the time was in the leadership of the student senate at Columbia University. And he mentioned how he lead a student initiative to divest their endowment from specific companies that they saw doing harm overseas. Which has really been a trend in universities in the last 30 years, really started with Apartheid South Africa that these major endowments would start looking into what they’re invested in. What are these companies doing, and does that sit with the goals and morals of higher education?So, that conversation got me thinking, “Hey, I’ve never looked at A&M’s endowments,” So I went online and found the full list of all companies that the university’s invested in, all 2200 companies, and started looking through think-tanks, NGOs, government reports on what those companies were actually doing.Frank: You said you went and looked online, this is not something that a lot of foundations go out of their way to make transparent, so how did you go about finding where these investments are located online.Spencer: Well, that was actually pretty easy because Texas A&M has their endowment and their foundation, which as you mention is usually very opaque and it’s very hard to look into foundations. We were dealing specifically with the endowment. Which at Texas A&M is about 8, 9 times larger than our foundation, which usually strictly deals with money coming in to fund athletic programs and doesn’t necessarily deal with the academic portions.So, it was interesting that you mentioned how large the University of Texas Endowment is, at about $27.2 billion. And, it’s funny, the Texas Constitution actually has Texas A&M and UT’s endowments joined together, partially, to where we have this thing called a permanent university fund that’s about $17.2 billion. And so some of our money is actually included in that total. But that makes us, out of the top universities in the country, involved in the second-most valuable. And in the top ten, we are the only universities that don’t have any kind of vehicle or committee to look at who we’re invested in.Frank: So, you get ahold of this list of corporations, and then you go about starting to research, basically what are the human rights records of these corporations. So, what were some of the resources that you relied on, there, to look into the activities of the corporations in which Texas A&M invested?Spencer: Right, because it was 2,200 companies, it would have been very difficult for me to have gone through and Googled or looked through the financial reports of every single one of those companies. So, even today, the list we ended up with of about 50 companies, I know wasn’t very comprehensive, and I know there were other companies on that list. There’s probably some other ones, bad ones, lurking. But to kind of do this, I really had to leverage people who were more experienced with looking into school endowments and foundations, as well as just companies and multinational companies around the world. So, I leveraged and kind of built a network of people at the BBC, Reuters, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International was a big one, Oxford University, even people like survivors of the Darfur genocide, which we ended up talking about a lot; old friends in Tanzania, I ended up getting a lot of help from people around there. Because, I’ll never forget kind of waking up three nights in a row in October at 3 am to talk to people via Skype in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But that’s really who I was able to find all of these companies and what they were doing through.Frank: So, one of the lists that you were looking at is a list put out by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which details companies that have faced accusations of violating what’s called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Which is an act that prohibits things like engaging in bribery, the kinds of business practices that would be unlawful in the United States are comparably unlawful if they’re done overseas by a United States-based company. So, these are the kinds of records that I can imagine being kind of intimidating or forbidding to a student journalist to dig into and to understand. What was that process like, trying to make sense out of these documents?Spencer: I think I had a leg up in that I’m a finance major, so I could understand how to read through a financial annual report and kind of read between the lines, but it also took a lot of reaching out to people like the Department of Justice, specifically for those foreign corrupt practices act companies. I was able to go through the list, but I didn’t have a lot of information outside of what they were posting, so I had to actually call the Department of Justice and the SEC offices that handle Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations specifically, and of course wasn’t able to get anyone on record who wanted to talk about these companies specifically to our endowment but I was able to get a lot of leg work and get some wisdom out of those resources.Frank: And we should point out that these were not subjective judgements on your part as a journalist. You weren’t making an independent evaluation that these were somehow companies in which the university shouldn’t invest or companies that were “bad companies.” You’re relying on outside, third-party sources such as that SEC list and also, interestingly, a list kept by the comptroller of the state of Texas which has banned certain companies from being on the approved list of investments with teacher’s retirement system, the teachers’ pension plan, because those companies are implicated in genocide in the Sudan. And yet you found that the A&M system was under no such restriction and was investing in some of these very same companies which the teachers’ retirement system would not have been legally allowed to invest in. Spencer: Right, so I knew early on that the ethos of a junior student reporter was poor compared to the available ethos afforded by agencies specifically set up to investigate issues like this with multinational companies in the U.S. So, that’s how I ended up relying on the SEC and the state comptroller’s list, which was an interesting thing in itself, as you mentioned, because it applied directly to other large public investment funds in Texas. Where in 2007 the state legislature of Texas told the state comptroller of Texas, make a list of companies that are “directly involved in genocide in Darfur” and we will no longer allow our teacher retirement service and another large fund to invest in said companies.’ So, today that list stands at about 25 companies, and it continues to be updated every year as is necessitated by the statute. And we are, as of when we published this in November, we were invested in 10 of those. And we use that as a way of saying, this isn’t just out own opinion about it. This is what our elected officials in the state of Texas are saying about it. And very interestingly about that is that the only real trouble I had getting any kind of records or any kind of information wasn’t so much on the financial side of that, people were very available to pass that on, it was kind of getting opinions and quotes and answers out of the school administration. But, funny enough, the chancellor of the Texas A&M system today, John Sharp, was actually a former state comptroller of Texas. Not during the time when this law would have applied to him where he would have been looking at these companies, but he served a similar role in previous legislation.Frank: Well, let me talk to Samantha King for a second. So, Spencer has walked us through how he developed this story. You’re the news editor of the Battalion, and this guy who’s a finance major presents you with what sound alike a pretty forbidding story, here, that’s obviously going to eat a lot of column inches. What was your reaction and how did you go about making that into a digestible story that a mass audience could appreciate?Samantha King: Right, well, Spencer came into our office, it was the first week of school. He talked to myself and my co-news editor at the time, Katy Stapp, and then-editor in chief Aimée Breaux, and he had his ducks in a row. He’d done a lot of research up to that point; he presented us with these huge manilla packets with, I mean, pages and pages of research and numbers. And I’m not ashamed to admit, as a communication major, I was quite overwhelmed by all of that, but he really knew what he was talking about. He was able to put it into terms that we were able to understand, and because we knew he was so knowledgeable about this and so invested in this research and this story, we knew that we were going to be able to take that and turn it into something that our readers would be able to digest, as well.We knew that was going to take some work and some planning, and essentially what we told him was, run with this, we’ll support you with this. Get as much of the work done as you can, here; let’s operate on a deadline that is pretty transient. We didn’t really set a strict, ‘November this is running.’ We let him really do the work on this and supported him in the ways that we could, and in the meantime we were constantly brainstorming ways that we wanted to present it. Talking about, you know, there’s a lot of information in terms of the investment amount and the return on the investment. And we really had to think about this from the standpoint of for your average college student reader, which is our audience. How am I going to be able to best present this so that they can understand months and months of research in a four-day series?So, it came down to a lot of info graphics. We had timelines, we had charts, we had – even just breakdowns of what the board of directors looked like. And it really ended up being something that was really digestible and easy to understand but at the same time we didn’t want to make it too elementary. I mean, it is, it’s a complex issue. It was something that, I can’t say enough, a lot of work went into compiling and we wanted to give it the space that it deserved. I think all said and done, in terms of page count, it took up, I want to say, six, maybe seven or eight broadsheet pages and a lot of it was just text. But we firmly believe here at the Battalion that good stories deserve the space and we were willing to give this excellent story the space that it deserved and tell the story in the way that was going to make it easiest for our readers to understand. And I think that we did accomplish that goal, and, I mean, packaging it was great. We had some really talented graphic artists working with us, as well, who were able to visually kind of represent the turmoil and the ill-practices of the stories artistically in a way that made it engaging. From a page-design standpoint, the front cover of the day one paper was, the only story on that page was the first story in that issue, the “A dark spot on Texas A&M’s investments.’ And it really caught the eye of people in the stands, and we really did our groundwork, too, our legwork online in terms of promoting it on social media. And I think it was a very successful team effort from taking these months and moths of work, these thousands of words, and packaging it in a way that our college student audience and, beyond that, people could understand.Frank: We should invite everyone to visit the website of the newspaper. It’s thebatt.com, “batt” with two-t’s, as in short for “battalion.” TheBatt.com where Spencer Davis’s four-part series, and the graphics accompanying it, are displayed. And Spencer, I think we should emphasize that you’re not alleging through any of this research that the investment strategies pursued by Texas A&M were unlawful, but you do raise some serious ethical questions about some of the judgments that they’ve made in their choice of companies. Can you maybe give a highlight or two of some of the questionable ethical practices that your research uncovered.Spencer: Absolutely, and I think that’s something important to note is that the caveat here is that I never intended to put administrators on trial with the warlords I was talking about. But the question that kind of followed that was, again, indifference is its own sin. But specifically looking at some companies that we were looking at, we have examples of, of course the Sudan companies being directly involved in the genocide in Darfur. We have, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we had, there was an open-pit copper mine called the Tilwezembe Copper Mine that was owned by Glencore-Xsrtata that we had invested millions into and lost millions as they lost company value through the stock market over three years, but had continued to keep us invested and really plow more money into this investment. And you had very credible video footage from reporters at the BBC of children as young as 10 and 11 years old working in that copper mine. And that was a way I kind of reach rout and established sources and got wisdom was actually reaching out to the reporter that had originally published the video of the children working in the copper mine.Frank: Well, for someone who’s a student at another campus who’s maybe interested in trying to replicate a project like this of their own, any tips or pieces of advice about how to go about doing it. Maybe things you learned or things you wish you’d known going in?Spencer: Yeah, I think the first challenge is to not be afraid of the numbers. Most of the journalists listening to this or the journalists out there in college newspapers right now are currently working in the largest, richest, most complex, and most consequential organization that they ever will, right now. And because everything begins and ends with money, if you as editors begin to take a better look at the business side of education, I think you’ll make a huge difference. Even if it’s not for another 10 or 20 years. That’s kind of, i wanted to talk for a second about the consequences of this because a lot of people will ask, ‘Well, what became of this? What happened after 8,000 words, you know, seven or eight broadsides, massive column inches – what came of this?’ I think the long answer is, awareness of a new issue, some public debate on campus, and making the administration more aware of the scrutiny that they are under The short answer is, nothing. No companies were divested from once they were exposed. No policy was changed, and no committee was set up to even look at the issues in our portfolio. So, when friends and loved ones will often ask me that question, ‘What did this story accomplish?’ it’s usually posed with a tone that really asks, ‘Why did you waste so much time on this if it’s changed so little?’And my answer to this, I think it’s important to other editors or reporters looking at, thinking about looking at the same thing, is that the point of a college education is not to see immediate results, but to educate a better generation that can take the issues that they’ve learned about and implement change once they’ve come of age. It’s call to mean that colleges are investing in change that won’t be seen for 10 or 20 years, and similarly I find this to be the role of a college press, to give alternative views to students about what they can do when they are our leaders 10 or 20 years from now.Frank: Well, I want to thank and congratulate you, again, Samantha King and Spencer Davis on a really groundbreaking piece of investigative reporting that is exemplary for editors and reporters around the country to look at as a guide. It’s online at TheBatt.com and we encourage you to check it out and to check into the investment performance of your own campuses. If you’re looking for help getting access to records and putting them to use, the Student Press Law Center is there to help. We’re online at splc.org. We’re on Twitter @splc, and we’re just a phone call away: 202-785-5450. Get in touch any time you’ve got a question about your own legal rights. Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you next month.
Montana is known for big skies, skiing, and breathtaking scenery (our Montana-raised Publications Fellow is absolutely not biased whatsoever). Unfortunately, it's now also known for highly questionable policies in dealing with sexual assaults at one of its largest universities, the University of Montana.The situation at UM came to prominence with the publication of Jon Krakauer's investigative book, "Missoula." Recently, the Montana Supreme Court ruled against Krakauer in his open records lawsuit against the university, and this month, SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte discusses the case with Krakauer's Montana attorney, Mike Meloy. In the podcast they discuss open records, the unique protections codified in Montana's Constitution, and the underlying argument over FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) which the Montana Commissioner of Higher Education cited in refusing to turn over documents related to rape allegations against one of UM's star football players after a university court hearing recommended the player's expulsion.
Frank LoMonte:Hi, everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Student Press Law Center's monthly podcast. On the SPLC podcast we run down news and ideas about the law governing the rights of student journalists in high schools and colleges. The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student First Amendment rights. We're online at SPLC.org, on Twitter @SPLC, and the easiest way to connect with us is by email: email@example.com. This is a kind of first for the SPLC's podcast, a remote broadcast. We don't normally get to go out of the office, but today it happens to be a special day at Stony Brook University on Long Island. The Stony Brook hosted a conference called, "Icons of Freedom" that focused on the First Amendment in schools and one of their featured speakers is Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey. She's the Kuhlmeier in the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier 1988 US Supreme Court Decision that's so well known as the decision that diminished the First Amendment protection of student rights in curricular settings. The Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision stands for the proposition that schools may freely censor student speech in a curricular student publication so long as they can point to what's called a "legitimate pedagogical reason" for the censorship. That ruling has stood for 28 years, but there's some progress to report that more and more states are passing what are known as New Voices or anti-Hazelwood statutes, and Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey has actually testified in both North Dakota and in Missouri in support of those reforms. And there's some progress, since 2015, North Dakota, Maryland, and Illinois have each passed a statute that restores students rights to the level they enjoyed before the Hazelwood ruling. So I'm so delighted to have Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey joining us to record this podcast and thanks for all of your efforts in support of the New Voices movement.Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey:Thank you, Frank, for everything that you do for it. Frank:Well, so , a lot of people are familiar with the back-story to Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeiere. It involved the censorship of the high school student newspaper in the suburbs of St. Louis where you were among the editors. The editors put together a double-page spread about varying social issues that were on the minds of students and of importance in their lives, and that became the lightening rod for censorship by the principal. I've heard you give some presentations about the backstory to that case and I think it's fascinating to know a little bit more about how the students came up with those story ideas that resulted in the school's censorship, and where those ideas came from and what you were trying to accomplish in publishing those stories.Cathy:Our paper had traditionally been a type of paper where it talked about just more of a fluff-type story. And we wanted to come back and do something that was related to issues that we could identify in our school. We – under the direction of our adviser, Mr. Sturgis – we went back to the school morgue and we found different topics that they had maybe tossed around and didn't publish, and then we finally came across a publication of the paper five years previously underneath a different principal, Dr. Negry, where they identified the problems of teenagers. We thought that was probably the best choice for what we wanted to do because it was more hard-hitting and it was still relevant in our school. The stories that we chose to expand on and update, now five years later, were teen pregnancy, divorce, marriage, and runaways. And we chose those topics because back in the 1980s in Hazelwood East High School we had a pregnancy problem. In a large populated school, about 2,500, there were at least 50 girls in the school that were pregnant and we had a daycare. And so we related to that and we chose to talk to the three different, three of the different girls that had very different situations and bring to light their stories. So that we could not identify who those girls were for the general population of the school or the administration, we inserted a blurb that was supposed to run that stated that we would be changing their names because we wanted to protect their identities. We also went one step further. Once we got their stories and their quotes and typed everything up, we sent those quotes home with them and said, "Here, please review this with your parents, if everything is accurate, we've done our job, sign off on it as well as your parents." We wanted to be that responsible journalist. In the stories related to runaways, we gave hotline numbers in hopes that we could reach out to someone that was potentially considering running away and help someone. At that point in time in my life I was, I worked for Target. We had a student within our high school population that ran away and for whatever reason chose to stop at Target on his way out of town and took his own life in the restroom of Target. And I think that one for me is very hard to accept the fact that we weren't able to publish those articles because on the slim chance that maybe Reggie read that article, maybe Reggie would still be here today, and I have a hard time accepting that. That we weren't able to help out and reach someone. We also talked about the problems of divorce in high school and how that affected students. I was a student of a divorced family, and I struggled with that myself because my father was an alcoholic when I was in high school and I felt like I was very isolated and alone. But we wanted to reach out to the kids in our school and tell them you're not the only ones dealing with these type of problems. They reach much farther than what you ever imagined, and we wanted to show them that things aren't as bad as you may feel. You're not alone in it and we wanted to just send that message. Times can be very lonely and frightening as a teenager, and we wanted to make those people feel like, you know, there are others out there that are like you.Frank:I think that's really important for people to hear that backstory because so often the skeptics and the critics of journalism, the people who are responsible for the censorship will assume that when a student wants to write about a sensitive social issue, that they're being sensationalistic. That they're trying to create controversy. And in fact so often we find at the Student Press Law Center that people are trying to draw attention to a social problem for purposes of mobilizing the adult community to address it and solve it. It is never the case that students want to write about drugs or pregnancy or gun violence because they're hoping to promote and encourage more of that behavior. It is always the case that they're writing about it because they're hoping that people in the adult world, parents, school leaders, people in the community, will see that story as their wakeup call. And so often, too, just as with your runaway story, they're trying to reach out to kids in that school community who feel somehow marginalized or isolated and to give those kids a voice. And so when people ask, "Well, why is it valuable to let students publish stories about sensitive social issues?" I think you've encapsulated why it's important. You're giving voice to people who are struggling and maybe feel lonely in that struggle with a family problem or a personal problem and sometimes making them aware of services that might be available to help them. So, all of that's an incredibly valuable testament to what student journalism is capable of doing if we let it. The other story I've heard you tell, which is typical of the frustrations that student journalists experience, was trying to get a straight answer from your school about why they did what they did. I mean, we know that the end result was that the principal directed that two pages of articles that you just described be removed at the printing plant and that the pages be printed blank. And you've gotten over the years a variety of shifting explanations for why. Can you talk about that?Cathy:Initially we were told that he objected to a stories, when we went to meet with him to find out why they weren't there, he initially told us that the stories were too mature for an immature audience. And as we met with him, the question that came to mind for me was "If I'm old enough to get pregnant, shouldn't I be old enough to read about that?" And he was not very pleased that I, you know, challenged him on that. And then within the articles that were to run there was a ghosted picture of someone that looked pregnant and he said "I can identify that person," I said, "Well, then please tell me who it is," and he named someone, I said "No, that's not the case, that was me." It was very easy to make myself look pregnant by wearing a large shirt, folding up another T-shirt underneath it, and sticking it underneath that top shirt. And he said "Well, (incoherent platitudes)," and he did't really have a good explanation of why to explain that. Within the next three stories, then, that talked about the different girls' situations, he said he could also identify them. And I have a hard time believing that to be so, because he was a new principal that year and he was not involved with the population of the school and didn't know who these girls were. Especially when the number was so significantly high. I find it very hard that he could identify it. I think it's more of a case that he was concerned about the fact that there were pregnant girls within Hazelwood East in the '80s, reaching the community, and that we had a daycare within the school. I think he was trying to hide that fact. But the students could easily see there were babies in the school.Frank:And then later on, at one of the anniversary events, kind of bringing together the participants in this case, you had a chance to interact with him, and he told a different story entirely.Cathy:He told a completely different story at that time, and I think everyone in the entire room's jaw dropped, and there was an audible amazement sound that came form everyone because he told us at that time that he never actually read the articles and it was completely a budgetary issue. We didn't have the money to publish that. So, he had no choice but to remove the articles. So, years later it still left me wondering, did he read the articles and object or was it really a matter of he never actually read them and he just cut them because of budget? I don't think i'll ever know that answer.Frank:And, of course, that goes directly to the basis for the case since the Supreme Court was operating under one set assumptions, was operating under the story as it was told to them at the time by the school's legal council, but it turns out that, who knows what the real basis. They were working off of the record as it had been developed by the lower courts resulting in the 5-3 ruling in 1988 that produced such a detrimental outcome for students, but to this day no one will ever really know what was the school's genuine basis. Which goes really against the animating principle of Hazelwood. The whole purpose of Hazelwood as the Supreme Court wrote the majority opinion was that school's need this authority over student media for educational purposes and it keeps coming back in the opinion to the educational role of student media and the school's were told that they could censor so long as they had what's called the "legitimate pedagogical justification." So, everything in Hazelwood revolves around the idea that somehow the censorship was educationally based and that that's why schools need that authority is to teach best practices in journalism, which of course as all of have experienced is not always the way that authority is used. So, just taking us forward to the present time, the more things change the more they really do stay the same. So, you actually have a teenager enrolled in high school and participating in journalism right now. What has his experience been?Cathy:Well, unfortunately, my son has also been censored. Which floored me how this all came about. they were writing an article that's traditionally been published for ages within this high school, covering a story called “Assassins" and it is a water gun fight, off-campus held, and it is basically a right of passage for the seniors that they're allowed to participate in this. And they were just giving the basic facts of who's able to do it, how it works, where it's going to be held, and what does it cost. And the adviser chose to not run that article without allowing the kids any dispute over it. However, in turn, they chose to run an article about the wrestling team and how to rapidly drop weight so they can meet their weight classes. My son came home to me and was very concerned about that this is happening, and I said, "Well, you realize that's censorship, right?" and he said, "I do," and, "What do we do about it?" The following day I made a call to this adviser and I said, "I'd like to talk to you about this. I understand that there's two sides to every story and I just want to make sure that I'm hearing both sides of it and that my son isn't over-exaggerating anything," and she proceeded to tell me that it was none of my business. And I said, "As long as my child is in your class it's every bit of my business." And she said, "Well, who do you think you are to know what censorship is?" And I said, "Might I remind you that under the previous adviser, we had this revelation that I was involved in a First Amendment case over censorship in my high school press and I know quite a bit about it. And she also informed you of that, that I was involved with that, and that I came to talk to the class yearly." And she said, well it was really not my right and I shouldn't have anything to do with it, what's happening in her classroom is her business. And so, long story short, the lady made several threats against he entire classroom and it was not taken very well. The children in the class were very much afraid of what was happening, and to me, I took that as bullying by the faculty, and I took very much offense to that, besides the fact of the censorship occurring, and I explained to her that perhaps if I brought the Student Press Law Center into it that maybe they could enlighten her as to what the students' rights were.Frank:And that's still unresolved and it's still going on today, as I understand, although it sounds like maybe the administration has stepped in to some extent and ameliorated some of the worst effects of the censorship, but it is sort of remarkable that the Kuhlmeier Rule is being used against a new generation of Kuhlmeiers today. Remarkable and dispiriting that no progress has been made and nothing has been learned in 28 years. So, going back to your own experience with this case, I know there was a time you've said that in your childhood you may have thought yourself about pursuing journalism as a career or at least doing it at the college level. Do you think your experience in high school colored that for you and influenced your path?Cathy:I think very much so. My degree is still actually in mass communications and journalism, but after having lived this experience, it's something that I very much did not want to partake in for the rest of my life, of actually being a journalist. I think that goes back to the poor representation that we had from our attorney, even down to the fact that she didn't want make the long-distance phone calls to me when I lived out of town so I didn't know the case was even being heard, and even though my name is attached to this landmark case, I didn't attend anything. I didn't know what was happening. So, I find that very hard to swallow. But it's my hope that I can continue to be active in what's going on with new laws and attempting to be passed that are the anti-Hazelwood that we can overturn the wrongs that were done and made right.Frank:And just by way of closing, that's a great place to leave it. What is your message to those legislators of today? Looking back, now, at the 28 years of experience under Hazelwood and the way that publications are running, now, and the kinds of experiences that students like your own son are having. What's your case to those policy-makers and those legislators as to why they should retreat from the Hazelwood standard.Cathy:I think that if we give our students the opportunity to use the brain that God gave them, I believe that they're very intelligent individuals and they have a lot of good points to make and a lot of intelligent thoughts to express. If we start to stifle that when they're in high school, where is our journalism career of these children going to go if this is really their desire? What's going to happen to our civic education? Are we going to even be able to continue to function and have that? It's got to start some place, and if we can't start it in the high school, with fostering that desire to become a journalist, where does it come from?Frank:Well, I want to thank Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey, both for spending some time with us today on the Podcast, and also for investing so much of her own time in traveling to places like North Dakota and like the capitol in Missouri to be a public face and witness in favor of the New Voices US campaign. I want to encourage anybody out there who's interested in becoming a part of the New Voices movement to reform the laws in their own state to check out that website. It's NewVoicesUS.com. NewVoicesUS.com. This is a project started by the Student Press Law Center but really powered by volunteers from around the country, including students and there are opportunities for students to get involved blogging about their own censorship experiences, sharing those experiences with a wider audience and otherwise helping to enact curative laws in their states that ameliorate the worst impacts of that Supreme Court ruling. So, thanks again for being a part of this presentation today and for being such a wonderful champion of student rights. For all of you who are interested in getting more involved in the work of the Student Press Law Center, we encourage you to visit the SPLC.org website where there are numerous resources about protecting your own rights as a student journalists including copies of model publications policies suitable for use t that high school and college level. Always get in touch with us if you have questions or concerns about your own legal rights. We're available through email, firstname.lastname@example.org or by tweeting at us, @SPLC. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you next month.
For the independent student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, the Daily Tar Heel, standing up to a powerful institution is old news. Class after class, the Tar Heel's student reporters have stood as tireless watchdogs, standing in opposition to their administration on numerous occasions. In their latest sortie, three local news organizations have joined forces with the Tar Heel to file a lawsuit against UNC after it refused a records request for any records related to persons found responsible for rape, sexual assault, or sexual misconduct. This month, Executive Director Frank LoMonte interviews the Daily Tar Heel's editor-in-chief, Jane Wester, and general manager, Betsy O'Donovan.
This year, the Student Press Law joined forces with the American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association, and the the National Coalition Against Censorship to put together a report on the climate for scholastic journalism around the country. The report, Threats to the Independence of Student Media, highlights the nature and magnitude of free expression threats faced by high school and college media. This month Hank Reichman, chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, joins Frank LoMonte to discuss the impact and implications of the new report.
In an unprecedented move, the University of Kentucky filed a lawsuit last year against its independent student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. The reason – the paper had requested investigatory documents related to sexual assault charges levied against an associate professor. The university refused to release the records, and the Kernel appealed to the state attorney general in April. When Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled the university must release the records, the school had two options: release the records in accordance with the order, or sue.They filed suit against the paper on August 31.This month, a judge ruled in favor of the university, citing their argument that the release of the records would violate the privacy of the victims and that no amount of redaction could protect their identities to a degree acceptable to the court. The Kernel has vowed to appeal the judgment, and in this month's podcast we spoke with Marjorie Kirk, the editor-in-chief of the Kernel.
As a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Simon Galperin decided to look backward – to his journalism education at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he co-founded Muckgers, an independent investigative and storytelling outlet covering the university. Seeking to gauge the strength and nature of the college journalism ecosystem, he conducted a survey of student news organizations at public and private universities throughout the Garden State.This month, SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte speaks with Galperin to dig deeper into the how’s, why’s, and what’s of the ambitious ecosystem survey. Learn how he engaged the scholastic journalism community and what he learned about the innovations and challenges within student journalism.You can read about Galperin's findings on Medium.
In 1988, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier drastically curtailed the free press rights of K-12 students, but the decision didn't address collegiate press and has since been applied inconsistently to journalists in the post-secondary setting. This month, Executive Director Frank LoMonte interviews Nicole Comparato, the Editor-in-Chief of the University of Miami Law Review. Comparato proposed a better-defined public forum category for college press in her article for the UM Law Review, "Combatting Institutional Censorship of College Journalists: The Need for a 'Tailored Public Forum' Category to Best Protect Subsidized Student Newspapers."
This Podcast is running in tandem with the article, A political journalism veteran turns the spotlight on college athletics. INTRO: Hey listeners, this is James Hoyt, and I’m a reporting intern for the Student Press Law Center.This interview started out as a simple story about a New Mexico watchdog suing a university foundation, but it became much more than that. Daniel Libit is a Chicago-based journalist with years of experience covering politics and presidential campaigns who has turned his focus to college athletics at the University of New Mexico, his home state’s flagship university. Libit has a unique take on the sports beat and how he shines a spotlight on the Lobos, so we decided to make this into a special-edition podcast. Please excuse the “ums” and “ahs” as this wasn’t originally intended to be published. Here’s Daniel Libit.James Hoyt: Why are you so passionate about this?Daniel Libit: I was born and raised in Albuquerque, this is the hometown team I followed and rooted for growing up as a kid. I have a philosophy on college athletics and college athletics journalism. I wrote a piece several years ago as a cover story for the CJR called “The Scandal Beat” where I dove into at least one aspect in the way that college athletics is being poorly covered, and this is, I’ve wanted to conduct this experiment on how I think college athletics should be covered. If you were actually covering it like the public institution that it is. And so my website is a test tube for, or a model for how one can go about doing this. And it doesn’t have an expiration date, I won’t be doing this for my entire life. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own in some respects, up to and including this lawsuit. I wanted to sort of find ways of using public records and sort of a philosophy of public accountability and just target a single college athletics department, and because the University of New Mexico was the one I’m most familiar with, even though I didn’t go there I went to the University of Wisconsin, I had the, I was dispositioned to focus on it but the sorts of things, and I encourage to take even the briefest of looks at the website because there’s a lot of stuff on there beyond this lawsuit, I think this is the way that, if I think this is what real college sports journalism looks like, as opposed to what we see which is either entertainment or reporting in the loosest sense of the word. So yeah, that’s, the passion project, I’m not passionate for UNM, I’m passionate about providing an example about how college sports ought to be covered if the people who covered it actually considered themselves to be journalists.James: It’s unique to see this kind of scrutiny on the LobosDaniel: It’s completely, you wouldn’t find this anywhere as far as I can tell. No one’s doing this, even if you go, you’ll find newspapers that might be doing interesting work here and there, you’ll find the New York Times, the Washington Post have enterprise sports reporters or maybe even enterprise college sports reporters, but nobody’s covering the public institution side of an athletics department or even college athletics almost as a full time regularized beat, which is, again, I don’t understand, this the only way to do journalism. The other thing is not journalism. 99 percent of the coverage of college athletics is non-journalistic, and even when this is sort of the point I was making in the CJR piece I wrote a few years back, oftentimes when college sports reporters think they’re doing true journalism on the beat, they’re missing the whole plot. They’re covering the wrong thing, or they’re covering it through the wrong lens. And that was the gist of the piece I wrote for the Columbia Journalism review was looking at the way college scandals, college athletics scandals are often covered where, you know, I don’t need to, this is going off on a tangent I’ll shut up in a second, you have all these awards being won and all of this credit being given to this subgroup of college sports reporters who basically break news about certain programs violating NCAA rules, either with players getting paid money under the table or things of that nature. And some of these rules I think are bullshit, for lack of a better term. I don’t care, there’s no ethics behind them. These are corporate rules that serve a corporate entity. Some of these rules in terms of academic fraud I actually think there are ethics behind the rules, but a lot of these rules are just totally self-serving and yet the sports reporters get sucked up into these things as if these are real national laws that are being violated. You know, we wouldn’t cover that for any other entity. We wouldn’t treat their corporate rules as anything more than company rules. So that’s, in that way I think yeah I just feel like there’s a lot of confusion in college sports reporting because most of the people who are coming at it are coming at it from the perspective of fans and not from the perspective as journalists.James: How could student journalists apply these methods?Daniel: I think they should just fully adopt the spirit which with, their best positioned, right? Because one, they’re supposed to be representing the interest of students. So a lot of the things I write about are, the subjugation of athletes for the plutocracy of college sports, the exit interviews story, a lot of them have to deal with the finances. So take for example, this is less germane at a school like Kansas, but at New Mexico the university is in financial straits, the state is broke, and yet they’re trying to prop up college athletics and pay money they simply cannot afford and taxing the students more with student fees, and there’s very little accountability and a regula front on any of these issues. On the finances, the treatment of athletes, on the compensation of athletics administrative officials, I think that it’s the story. I recognize that we live in a world now there’s a lot of interest in what happens on the court, and in some ways you can’t stuff that genie back in the bottle but there's enough of that already. We don’t need anybody else, when Kansas plays basketball, how many game stories do we need that say the exact same thing? So particularly when it comes to the student newspaper, other than invariably there’s going to be a lot of people who are going to want to go to college and join the newspaper and cover Kansas basketball games, I get the allure, but there’s got to be, whether or not it’s another reporter, or somebody needs to cover the public entity side of this. The public good side of this, all the time. Look into the financial records, question the whole thing. Take nothing for granted, and don’t necessarily take it as inherently virtuous that there’s this college athletics component to a university. Cover it at the very least cover it with a totally open mind on that front and challenge the university to prove that. Run that gauntlet every day. If you come at it from that perspective, the stories will just multiply. The story ideas will just multiply in your head. There’s so much to write about, it’s very interesting, and it’s actually useful, unlike most of what's written about college sports. To the extent that college sports is entertaining, this is also entertaining, it’s entertaining and useful. You want to get into that mindset, you know, I can’t tell you, there’s a thousand stories I would write about the University of New MExico which is admittedly a trifling member of the NCAA, so if I can just, if all those ideas are for a school like that you can imagine what you could find at a school like Kansas or Ohio State or my alma mater Wisconsin or any number of larger institutions. Because there the issue is less about the unaffordability of college athletics and more about the real corporatism of college athletics. That’s what you’d find on the other side of the coin.James: How have you adapted your political journalism experience to college sports?Daniel: How are people getting compensated? What are the contracts they’ve established with their corporate partners? What is the true life of student athletes? What is the true behavior of college coaches? A very good place to start is, for reporters to stop referring to coaches as “Coach,” and giving them these signifiers. After that, sort of cleansing themselves of what they think should be the standards or, “well this is just the way it is” and just star covering these people as human beings in a jobs making certain kinds of money to do certain kinds of things, and where is this money coming from?I was a three years staff writer at Politico, I was a contributing writer for National journal, I was a contributing writer at CNBC.com, I have a background in national politics, this is just a detour. So I’m covering this in some ways like you’d cover, it’s almost too much of a compliment, but how you would cover national politics or how you would cover a statehouse. That sort of the attitude I’m trying to bring to covering an athletics department.James: What have you brought over from political reporting?Daniel: The insatiable hunger for public records requests. And also, this is less from political reporting but this is just from not being a college reporter, I’ve benefited from not being inculcated in college sports reporting, is I don’t care about access. I’m not deceived into thinking that by constantly playing nice and by not writing anything controversial that this will somehow benefit my reporting. It never does. And that’s true in college sports and that’s true everywhere else. THere’s certainly a time and place to build sources, and everyone needs to make their own calculations about balancing future stories and the potential of getting future stories versus what you write in the interim, but there is, I think this is particularly the case in college sports reporting, there's a discomfort because of just the nature of the beat, so the people who have the most access and insight into a program are also the people who are traveling with the team on the road and going to press conferences and it’s uncomfortable, it’s uncomfortable to be the only person around who, or to have the sort of adverse or confrontational relationship with the beat that you’re covering. Especially since your readership, more often than not, is not going to compliment you or praise you for this work. The readership for college sports stories is fans, more or less. And so that might either lead to a rethinking about so maybe we have a college sports reporter, but maybe our higher education reporter works in conjunction OR we maybe don’t worry about that sort of access. Maybe that sort of access to get press passes to a game that anyone can see on TV anyway or to be permitted to come into a press conference where no interesting information is ever revealed, maybe we’re willing to give that up so we can actually focus on some more interesting and useful aspects of covering that stuff. That would be treating the beat of college sports as an actual journalistic beat and not merely as an entertainment beat. James: How has UNM responded?Daniel: Uncomfortably. I think what they recognize is the carrot and sticks that they are normally able to use to cow the few reporters they have who actually cover them don’t apply to somebody who’s not looking for press credentials or friendly interviews with the coach or coaches. From everything I’ve heard they don’t exactly know what to do with me. They’ve been polite. I treat this journalistically, if I have a story I run it by them, I give them every opportunity, I feel, every reasonable opportunity to respond, to lend their input, they’ve traditionally just given me responses by email. Notably, the head spokesperson for the athletic department has never actually taken a call of mine, so I call him quite frequently and leave messages. He will respond by email but he seems to avoid my calls like the plague. Because it’s New Mexico and because it’s not Kansas, there’s less of a wall, a wagon circling in the larger nation. There’s still people who are very passionate and I get the hate mail, but it wouldn’t be to the same extent that it would be perhaps if I was covering a Big 12 or a Big Ten program, not that I would have any problem with that. Again, this thing should exist everywhere. I’m certainly of the mind at some point to expand it beyond the dusty environment to New Mexico.James: Bringing an outsider’s perspective?Daniel: Yeah, bringing a journalistic perspective. I just want to emphasize the point that I just don’t think college sports journalism is journalistic most times. If you actually think about how to practice journalism on the beat, what I’m doing is the logical conclusion. This is what you’d cover. This is how you’d cover it. I’m not innovating here, I’m just actually doing what college sports journalists claim to do.
The launch of SPLC's Active Voice Fellowship was informed by research emerging from the University of Kansas. Genelle Belmas and Piotr Bobkowski surveyed 461 high school journalists and found that both direct censorship by administrators and self-censorship were endemic among student journalists.The shock came with the disparity between genders – 41% of girls reported having been told not to cover a given topic compared to 28% of boys. Additionally, 53% of girls said they refrained from writing a story in anticipation of pushback, compared to 27% of boys.Now, the pair have a new research article published in the journal Girlhood Studies, "Mixed Media Messages: Girls' Voices and Civic Engagement in Student Journalism." This month, SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte has Genelle Belmas on the podcast to dig into the findings of their survey – and the consequences for young women, media, and democratic society.
"The world's a barren and horrible place, isn't it? These kids are the only hope left." That's the opening line in the theatrical trailer for the animated movie "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea." The mixed media film hailed as “John Hughes for the Adult Swim generation” follows a team of muckraking high school journalists at Tides High who discover that a faculty cover-up has put the entire school in danger.This month, Executive Director Frank LoMonte speaks with the film's director, Dash Shaw.
Vermont passed one of the strongest student press freedom bills in the nation this year, and University of Vermont journalism adviser Chris Evans led the 2017 campaign. This month, SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte sits down with Evans to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the successful push for a New Voices law in Vermont, the impact of student involvement and advice for advocates across the country looking to Cure Hazelwood in their own states.
Frank LoMonte: Hi everyone, and welcome to another monthly installment of
the Student Press Law Center’s podcast. The Student Press Law Center is a
nonprofit advocate for the rights of young people working in journalism
around the country and we help students everywhere get access to the
information they need to tell compelling stories and share them across all
media. I’m Frank LoMonte and for the last time I get to come to you after
nine years of these podcasts as the director of the Student Press Law
Center because it is my distinct honor and pleasure to be passing on the
baton to a really, really amply qualified successor, one that we’re really
incredibly excited about: Hadar Harris, who is joining me today to talk
about her plans as the new executive director of the Student Press Law
Center. I’m gonna introduce her a little bit but then I’ll turn the mic
over to her to tell you more about her background and more about her plans.
Hadar Harris comes to the Student Press Law Center from her work as the
executive director of the
Northern California Innocence Project
at the Santa Clara University School of Law. Prior to that she ran the
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
at American University’s Washington College of Law. It is really hard in a
short time to capture the amount of work that she has done on the
international human rights scene. Hadar Harris is by far the best prepared,
best qualified, best credentialed person ever to lead the Student Press Law
Center at a time of enormous change and enormous opportunity in the field.
She comes to us with degrees both from Brown University and the UCLA School
of Law. She has worked as an educator, as an activist, as an advocate at
the highest levels of public policy including for the US House of
Representatives. She’s worked on the international as well as the domestic
scene. We’re just absolutely thrilled and overjoyed to have her as the
Executive Director, and with that, thank you for joining us Hadar Harris.
Hadar Harris: Frank, thank you so much, both for all the service that you
have done to build SPLC to the organization it is, and to do these
podcasts, which you’ve been doing for such a long time. I’m thrilled to be
here, I’m thrilled to be talking to you, and I’m a little bit worried about
following in your very big footsteps!
F: Not at all! Let’s give the folks a little more background on the work
that you’ve done and what brings you here. You’ve spent most of your life
working in the field of human rights law. What has motivated and driven you
to do that kind of legal work?
H: So in terms of what motivates me to do the work that I do, I’m motivated
by the fact that we see injustice in the world every day and everywhere we
look and if we open our eyes to it we can be motivated by the idea that we
can fix it. Openness and transparency and expression are fundamental human
rights, they’re also integrated with each other. We can’t do other kinds of
advocacy to change the world without being able to expose issues that are
difficult. So when I think about what motivates me to do human rights
issues I also think about it through the frame of the work SPLC does and
the fact that SPLC works to open up the eyes and create an atmosphere of
transparency and accountability and expression. So I’m very excited to
bring kind of the work and the background and the framework of human rights
to the work that the SPLC has done on a domestic level to integrate both
domestic law and a human rights frame around freedom of expression, freedom
of association and the right to information as we move ahead.
F: Well given that background and given that history of working at the
international level with human rights, what will it be to you at this time
in your career and this point in history to make this pivot and join the
Student Press Law Center. What attracted you to this particular
H: What’s interesting about it, and I kind of stopped for a second in
talking about this fundamental precept of all human beings being created
free and equal in dignity and rights. So when I teach, and I do trainings,
I often talk to people about what’s the most important human right? What’s
the most important thing? And it’s interesting to see where people come
down. Sometimes they talk about right to life, sometimes they talk about
the right to a healthy environment, because you need to breathe air and you
need to drink water, but more and more often it’s around freedom of
expression and freedom of association. So what drew me to SPLC and what
drew me to this sort of work is both the mission and the potential of this
I have been a student leader and I have worked with students for my entire
career and I know that students are at the front line. I also know that
students have the best new ideas and energy and enthusiasm to make real
change. So when I think about where we are today as a society in the United
States, where we’re talking about threats to press freedom and talking
about freedom of expression on campus and free speech and the way that
media is playing itself out and the way that media is changing and the way
that we communicate with each other. I want to support the work of student
journalists. I want to think broadly about how that work relates to how we
engage as a society — civil engagement, civil society. I want to be able to
work together with some of the best and the brightest and the most
committed students and staff and board members, and I know that that’s what
we have at the SPLC and I’m really looking forward to diving in deep with a
F: Well you’ve worked in some really challenging environments in some
countries where people are facing literally life and death challenges and
where human rights law can sometimes be a life saver and the difference
between life and death. I’m wondering how you see the challenges that
students and educators and journalists in this country and at this time in
our history and maybe if there’s anything in your background and your
experience that you liken it to or compare it to.
H: Well I hope that I don’t have to compare it to some of the worst places
in terms of places like Azerbaijan where journalists are being rounded up
and put in jail and tortured. I don’t think we’re at that level, and I hope
that we never will get to that level, but this is a critical moment when we
think about journalism and independent media and the ways in which our
country and media consumers are really understanding what truth is and what
good, concrete journalism is all about. I think that journalists right now
are facing an almost existential threat to their independence, their
credibility and we’re in this crazy destabilizing era of people asking
“what is truth?” Facing accusations of fake news and the understanding of
having a credible, engaged, critical community of journalists is really
kind of under attack.
At the same time we have all of these well publicized issues around free
speech on campus, debates around censorship and critical inquiry and
student journalists are really on the front line of all of this. A lot of
those issues aren’t new, but the context that we’re operating in feels new.
So one thing that I know is that through good strategy, great legal work,
collaboration among key stakeholders, various attorneys, educators, student
journalists working together we can find new solutions at this moment and
find new strategies that can help preserve this space for student
journalists to do their work to be more deeply engaged as folks who speak
truth to power and who hold people in power accountable, who may find
interesting stories that need to be exposed and who engage as core members
of civil society to create the robust debates that need to happen not just
on campus but in our communities as a whole. There are many strategies for
how you confront the worst types of censorship or the lack of access to
information and there are a lot of strategies that SPLC has helped to forge
and to promulgate and to promote, and there’s a lot more strategies that
we’re going to have to create and that we’re going to have to contextualize
and that we’ll have to move forward in the coming days. So I’m looking
forward to kind of bridging my experiences on a global level with ones
we’ve learned and applied here in the United States. Matter of fact some of
the work that I’ve done in the past ten or 12 years has really focused on
really creating and growing a movement for human rights in the United
States. So we’ve talked a lot about my background as a human rights
attorney, but my work as a human rights attorney very much applies to broad
issues that SPLC deals with and the range of civil and human rights issues
that exist here in the United States. It’s not just something that goes on
overseas, it’s work that is done here in the United States and that we have
to pay more and more attention to all the time.F: One of the challenges of any nonprofit organization, and particularly
one like the SPLC that is sort of small and dependent on donor funding, is
that the enormity of the mission can engulf the size of the staff and the
size of the financial support. So with that in mind, where do you see the
role of the SPLC? Where do you see us fitting into the universe of
comparable organizations, and do you have any particular thoughts —
understanding that you’re brand new in this job — about direction in
general or about new emphases, new priorities that you might bring to the
organization?H: I think it’s really important as the new executive director, coming in
to an organization with an established track record that we honor and that
we value and that we stay true to the core of what the organization is. So
for more than 40 years, SPLC’s work to defend the rights of student
journalists, to work with their advisers, to work with the publications, to
obtain information, to publish articles and opinion pieces, to exercise
First Amendment rights as critical members — critical meaning important,
but maybe sometimes also critical — members of their community, both the
school community and the community at large. It’s been described to me by a
number of people, the SPLC’s work has been like being the fire department:
putting out fires as they erupt. Maybe right now we have to think about
being more like being the cavalry. (Although I reserve the right to change
that metaphor as I get more deeply into the job.) And maybe taking more of
a proactive role in helping to define the debates.
One of the things that the New Voices initiative has been able to do in
working on supporting legislative changes state by state to ensure that
students have the right to publish and have information and do the work
they need to do, is to do that, take a more proactive role. As you know,
because you’ve been working in this field for so long, critical inquiry and
exacting journalism by students and by young people is such an important
part of encouraging civil engagement and a robust civil society, it’s
really what I talk about with promoting freedoms of expression and
association. And at this moment, when those fundamental rights are under
assault, I hope to be working with SPLC with our students, with our board,
with our staff, to expand the frame and the focus and the mandate and most
specifically, the impact of this small but mighty organization.
I think sometimes we think too much about being a small organization. I
actually think this organization has tremendous impact and tremendous
potential to reach even more broadly in the work that we do inside of this
larger frame of civic engagement and support for journalism at all levels,
the student level being the first line, but where our students go after
they graduate from high school and college is really important and the
fundamentals that they get around learning to be good journalists, learning
to be engaged civic actors is critically important to how they operate
within the country later. So I see such potential for the work of this
organization. One of the great things that you’ve established in this past
couple of years is the Active Voices fellowship program to cultivate and
mentor young female journalists from around the country. They are cohorts
of new and emerging journalists who have tremendous power and potential and
I look forward to working with them and expanding that program and seeing
where they can go with their ideas to affect the whole scope of First
Amendment and freedom of expression issues that we’ve been dealing with for
so long at SPLC.F: One of the many wonderful amazing things about this organization is the
ownership that people feel in it. There are so many teachers, students,
alumni, people who’ve come through the doors of SPLC as interns or as law
students, who really feel like it’s their organization. And for those
people out there, how can they be helping you? How can they best be of
service to you as the new director and to this organization as it meets the
challenges that you’ve been outlining?H: Well first and foremost, I want to hear from them — to hear about their
ideas, hear the things that SPLC has been most valuable to them in helping
them with, in helping them think through, in helping them to understand.
Their ideas about ways in which SPLC can have an even greater impact on the
issues that they’re facing today. You know, I see these first six to 12
months as a real period of learning for me. There’s a period of doing,
because there’s already a lot in process and there’s a lot for us to
continue to do, but I look forward to being out and about meeting people,
both in person and virtually, the power of Skype and the power of Google
Hangouts is tremendous in being able to make connections with people all
across the country and to learn from them, and to have conversations about
what SPLC has done, what we could be doing, what needs exist that haven’t
yet been filled, what we might be able to do to expand the reach of our
organization to raise its profile beyond those who already know what we do
and become even more indispensable in the fight against censorship, the
fight for freedom of information, the right to information, freedom of
expression, access to resources and that kind of robust civic engagement
that student journalism really encompasses. So we have a lot of work to do.
Of course the other thing that people can do is to actually donate or to
open doors to us to help spread the word about the great resources that we
have and to use them. One of the things that I’ve looked at carefully is
the SPLC’s website and there’s so much great information there. I think
it’s a credit to you, Frank, and to the staff and board members and
volunteer attorneys who have worked so hard in creating tremendous content
on the website. And so we hope that people will use those resources and
help us to build our network of alumni, supporters, donors so that we can
make sure we have the greatest impact possible at a time where an
organization like SPLC becomes more critically important. So we have a long
history, but we have a long way to go. And what’s great is to know that
we’re poised to be able to jump into whatever is ahead in the years to come
because of the great work that you’ve done, Frank, that your predecessors
have done and the great students and staff and board and volunteer
attorneys have done over time. I’m really excited about this opportunity. I
think it’s going to be a great ride.F: Well we are too, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have someone of your
stature, of your depth of experience, of your knowledge and commitment at
this time in SPLC’s history. I really think that the organization is poised
to take off to a new plateau, a new level that we haven’t ever seen before
and I think that will be a tribute to the leadership that you’re bringing
to this position.
So we’ve been talking with Hadar Harris. Hadar is the new executive
director at the Student Press Law Center, and someone that I couldn’t be
more thrilled to pass the baton to after my nine years. Just in closing,
I’m going to take a point in executive privilege, my last point of
executive privilege just to say a thank you to everyone who has been of
service to the Student Press Law Center during my nine years with the
organization. We’ve had some unbelievable staff members, interns, board
members, volunteer attorneys, a community of people who’ve worked
generously, selflessly to keep this organization vibrant and growing and
thriving. It’s really a testament to the power of the belief that people
have in the ideals that the SPLC stands for — the freedom of student
expression, the openness and transparency of our educational institutions
and the ability of young people to have a meaningful voice in making real,
positive social change on the issues that they care about. I think all of
those things are poised to make advances in this challenging and sometimes
discouraging political climate that we find ourselves in because it’s just
too important and it’s just too urgent to allow those freedoms and those
rights to go backward and I think there’s a growing national consensus
that’s exemplified by the success of the New Voices movement, that we can’t
go back. Human rights don’t go that way, they go from worse to better, and
that it’s time that young people joined the family of full, participating
citizens in a democracy.
With that, I want to say it has been a great personal honor and privilege
to be of service to this community of the very best students and very best
teachers in the world. As an attorney, there’s no greater privilege than
for people to put their lives into your hands and into your trust and to
say “tell me what to do” and I’ve tried to honor that work every day with
the SPLC and I’ll continue to do so in a new role at the Brechner Center at
the University of Florida where I invite everybody to connect with me. But
in the meantime, please join me in thanking and welcoming Hadar Harris to
the family as the new inspirational leader of the Student Press Law Center
and thank you so much today for joining us Hadar.H: And Frank, you’re not off the hook. You may be having a different title,
but you will definitely be part of this family and we will definitely be
calling on you for all different kinds of things. So don’t think this is
your last podcast, my friend. I think that we’ll be hearing from you again.
Thank you, Frank.F: Well, with that we thank all of you for listening to the Student Press
Law Center’s monthly podcast and invite you to connect with us with any
question about your legal rights or any advice for our new Executive
Director. There are many ways to reach us. Hadar’s email isHharris@splc.org, the website issplc.org, the email address email@example.com will always work. You can
tweet at us @splc or connect with us
by phone (202) 785 – 5450.
Thank you so much for listening. Thank you Hadar and thank you everyone in
the greater SPLC family for making these nine years the adventure of a
lifetime.To read the press release announcing Hadar Harris as the executive director click here.
We speak with Trevor Timm, a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit which works to protect journalists and their sources by offering free, open source digital security tools.
Further reading on the incident where Harvard searched through student deans' email accounts to find the source of a leak to the press (and update)
SPLC coverage an incident illustrating the dangers of relying on a school server: "Embattled high school newspaper loses a year's worth of archived stories after school officials shut down website"
Secure The News website
Prior SPLC coverage of internet filters
Got an idea for who next month's guest should be? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We speak with Richard "Dick" Prince about his origins as a reporter, going up against the Washington Post in the 1970s, and why newsrooms need to become more diverse. Prince’s column is at journal-isms.com. He also writes for theroot.com.
Long-form story about the Metro Seven
Yes, it’s a huge deal to have a black journalist run the New York Times, Quartz article by Prince
What stagnant diversity means for America's newsrooms, PBS Newshour interview with Prince
How Diverse Are US Newsrooms?, American Society of News Editors
Got an idea for who next month's guest should be? Send it to email@example.com.