Student Press Coverage of Dean Candidate’s Speech Restricted at Swarthmore

How open should the higher education administration hiring process be? When is a position at a college or university influential enough to warrant public and student press scrutiny of candidates’ remarks while they are on campus?

The Daily Gazette at Swarthmore College recently faced a related student press roadblock.  In late January, the newspaper’s editorial board wrote:

The second candidate for Dean of Students will be speaking at Swarthmore tonight. We encourage you to attend, because you will not be able to read our coverage of the event.  The administration has forbidden the student press, including the Gazette and the Phoenix, from reporting on the candidates for Dean of Student’s chats with students. Their decision denies those students who will not be able to attend tomorrow night’s event any chance at having a say in, or having a clear idea of, which Dean they would like to represent them. We are writing this piece to register our profound disappointment at the administration’s decision, to demonstrate our disagreement with the logic of their position, and to explain to our readers why we have decided to honor the request in the first place.

It is about access, and respecting the student voice.  Open access fights have interestingly been one of the main themes emerging among campus media this semester.  (Example 1.  Example 2.)

Job candidate visits absolutely do require a special set of reporting ethics, as the Gazette explained: “Some of the candidates had not made their candidacy public at their home institution, and it would certainly be unfair if, by reporting on the event, the Gazette jeopardized any of these candidate’s jobs.  Further, the administration was worried that later candidates might gain an advantage over earlier ones by reading press reports, and, presumably, learning more about the ins and outs of the process, and the types of the things the Swarthmore student body liked to hear.”

Both concerns are extremely valid, and an agreement was reached to limit access to reporting on the event to those on campus.  The Gazette admits that an oversight leaving an article on the first candidate’s visit unrestricted led the administration to become extra cautious, stifling student press from providing any coverage for the second candidate’s speech.

It is imperative that parts of job searches at certain levels of a school remain closed.  But even most faculty candidates nowadays teach a mock class or deliver a public research talk that could trigger campus news coverage.  A candidate for dean should not be immune from such scrutiny.  The Gazette‘s argument: “The purpose of student journalism is not to serve the interests of the Dean’s Search Committee, or those of the administration more generally, but to report news that is critical and relevant to the student body. This is one such news story. It is imperative that students learn as much information, from as many sources as possible, about the candidates in contention to represent them as Dean of Students.”

What do you think??

2 Responses to “Student Press Coverage of Dean Candidate’s Speech Restricted at Swarthmore”
  1. Powen Shiah says:

    This is bizarre, what is to stop someone from tweeting about a candidate or posting on their private blog about it?

    I imagine a significant number of college PR offices have (Google) alerts set for faculty and administrator names, which a tweet or blog post would set off, letting the cat out of the bag.

  2. Interesting. At The Acorn, we’ve been covering the hiring of Drew’s first full-time photography professor. Ordinarily, we don’t cover the hiring if a new prof, but in this case we’re interested because it will likely lead to the creation of a new photo minor and a new minor or major is cause for news coverage.

    Each candidate for the position has given public talks on their photography on campus and the art department has sent campus wide e-mails with their names and info about their work.

    After publicly revealing all of their names via e-mail, the head of the art dept told us he couldn’t tell us their names!