Student Media, Student Leaders, Faculty and Alums Protest Ithaca’s Restrictive New Media Policy

The student government, student media, and a healthy sampling of faculty, staff, and alumni at New York’s Ithaca College are protesting a restrictive media policy recently enacted by administrators.

Late last month, Ithaca president Tom Rochon informed the campus newspaper, magazine, and broadcast outlets that student staffers are now required “to route requests for interviews with administrators through the college’s office of media relations.”  Specifically, if reporters want to speak with top school officials about anything involving “college policies and developments,” they must make first contact and get permission to proceed from a single media relations rep.

According to The Ithacan, Rochon announced this new policy without any warning or opportunity for discussion.  There are 84 administrators on the no-direct-contact list.  (Yes, they made an actual list.)  Its aim, from an administrative perspective, is to “curb a ‘tendency [among student reporters] to rely too much on just a few people’ which . . . distracts them from their ‘actual jobs.'”

The Ithacan disputes Rochon’s assertion that administrators are in any way burdened with direct interview requests.  In an editorial response, the paper notes the policy speaks more to a tendency Rochon has for “controlling messages as well as a tendency to act without first gauging the college climate.”

As top eds. write, “The Rochon administration is becoming increasingly characterized by centralization and a corporate atmosphere. Students, faculty and staff should fight to keep Ithaca College the open and personal community that has made it so appealing in the past.”

Separately, Ithaca’s student government passed a resolution calling for the policy’s repeal (screenshot below).  In a letter to the Ithacan addressed to Rochon, two top SG reps note, “It is the opinion of the Senate that this policy, while not necessarily malicious in intent, gives the administration an unnecessary level of authority over student publications at the college. Student publications serve, as they do outside of higher education, as a watch-dog of administrative policies. By limiting access to the 84 top members of the college’s administration, the institution effectively places a gate keeper between themselves and students, allowing the college to ‘sit’ on a story that it sees as potentially damaging.”

In addition, roughly 70 faculty members across disciplines signed an open letter of concern about the policy.  Its introduction states, “As we see it, this policy has implications beyond the merely procedural. It bureaucratizes and centralizes a process that should remain free and open by allowing students to approach whomever they want. Identifying their sources and interviewing many different people is how students learn to be good journalists. Besides, an administrator is always free to decline the request for an interview or to suggest another person.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is also against the policy.  Legislative and policy director Joseph Cohn explains, “Policies like this one, therefore, threaten the very notion of a free press and defeat the principles embodied in the First Amendment. . . . Ithaca College’s policy is too broad to accomplish the administration’s stated purpose and jeopardizes the independence and integrity of the school’s press.”

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