Editor at OU Student Paper Criticizes No-Photo Policy in Campus Dining Halls & Markets

A section editor at The Post student newspaper is annoyed at a longstanding policy prohibiting individuals from taking photographs in the dining halls or on dining services property without permission.

Late last month, OU journalism student extraordinaire and Post campus editor Will Drabold attempted to take photos of some “near-empty shelves” in a market at the school. Drabold’s aim was to visualize his reporting on a screw-up: Officials with Culinary Services initially didn’t restrict flex meal plans during the shortened Thanksgiving week — so students temporarily had lots of extra foodie money to spend. This meant a race was on — hungry students taking advantage of a glitch vs. the Culinary Services crew intent on limiting the fallout from a mistake.

Yet, when a worker spotted Drabold with a camera, trouble commenced. As he writes in a Post piece:

“Without identifying myself as a reporter, I began taking photos of the sign that read ‘you only have five swipes now’ and the near-empty shelves. Unsurprisingly, a student employee asked me who I was taking pictures for. The second I said ‘The Post,’ she reacted like she had seen a ghost. Photographing an issue that affects students and their wallets apparently bewildered this Boyd Market employee. Or maybe it was Culinary Services’ policy that does not allow photography in any dining hall, market or other Culinary venue without approval from a division administrator. That same policy also keeps the more than 1,500 student employees of Culinary’s from speaking to the media without upper approval.”

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Drabold cops to knowingly breaking the no-dining-photos policy. But he’s crying foul at what he sees as an overzealous response from the culinary illuminati — including at one point being told his reporting and photographing work represented illegal trespassing. He also questions why these stringent media restrictions are in place for such heavily-trafficked, potentially newsworthy student hotspots.

As he asks in his write-up, headlined “Photo Policy Rubs Reporter the Wrong Way,” “[S]hould I be threatened for taking pictures of food on West Green? Or made to feel guilty by someone who says he fears for his job because I took a picture without his boss’ approval? Should student workers be kept from talking to fellow students who are journalists, just because the latter happen to be reporters?”

What do you think?

From what I gather, this is a sadly common restriction on campuses nationwide — a sign of our stonewalling times and ever-increasing collegiate corporatization. It presents an intriguing conundrum: an outside company creating and enforcing its restrictions while operating on the property of a school with separate freedoms and restrictions of its own. On spec, it also strikes me as an antiquated policy. In the mobile and social media age, random students are obviously taking and posting their own dining hall photos — any attempt to limit that seems silly and impossible to enforce. Shouldn’t a responsible media outlet be granted the basic freedom to snap and publish newsy food photos as well?

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