All students should feel comfortable speaking to the press, no matter where they work
Students and employees should be able to speak to the press. It’s as simple as that. Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right, as is the ability to criticize and push back against the issues we see in our systems, our institutions or our administration.
Over the past year, members of our staff have encountered scenarios when their interview requests were denied or delayed due to student employees facing barriers from their supervisors. In the fall, a features writer made a press inquiry for an article about campus tour guides and how they had adapted to COVID-19 restrictions—the article was ultimately canceled because employees couldn’t get approval from the supervisor. The tour guides responded, stating that their supervisor would not allow comment from individual tour guides. A campus news writer encountered a similar scenario when contacting a student employee about the ARC closing and reopening in Fall Quarter 2020; the employee said that they would need their manager’s approval to be interviewed.
For another article, Student Housing employees said that they feared they would lose their job if they agreed to speak to The Aggie about miscommunication in their department and the lack of mental health support they received. The employees decided to speak on the record “on condition of anonymity to protect themselves and their employment.”
While the Editorial Board understands that, in some cases, supervisors would like the most knowledgeable authority to respond to press inquiries to avoid the spread of incorrect information, we believe employees should be able to comment on their work environment and their employment experience without fear of losing their job or jeopardizing professional relationships. Prohibiting or discouraging employees and student employees from speaking with the press or trying to control their message suggests, whether it is true or not, that the supervisors of these workplaces wish to keep information from the public.
Every member of the UC Davis community should work to promote a culture of transparency. If there is a problem within our system, students should feel that they can speak out against it without fear of retaliation. And even if there are no problems that need to be addressed, students should simply be allowed to express their opinions and feel comfortable sharing their experiences should they choose to do so.
In the Editorial Board’s Spring Quarter meeting with Chancellor Gary May and other UC Davis administrators on May 5, 2021, we broached this subject, asking why some student employees are not allowed to speak to the press and detailing two of the aforementioned examples.
“No students are excluded from speaking to the press,” May said in the interview. “If a student has a question on a tour about something, please answer it. I don’t think that’s a problem or if someone wants to know about how you feel about the ARC being closed, please feel free to answer that. That’s not something we would try to regulate.”
Campus Counsel Michael Sweeney elaborated on this idea.
“Every employee, student has the right for freedom of expression, and people understand that the administration should not interfere with that freedom of expression,” Sweeney said in the interview.
The Editorial Board agrees with these statements, and because members of the administration have expressed their desire for transparency, as campus leaders, they should take action to promote this transparency in all places of work on campus. This could take the form of guidelines for supervisors to follow when they or their employees receive inquiries from The Aggie and other members of the press.
Furthermore, despite this voiced support from campus administrators, clearly students do not feel that they are permitted to share their opinions with the press, either because they have received a direct statement from their supervisor or because they feel they could lose their job if they exercise this right.
Although there are no explicit rules against freedom of expression for students on campus, the university can do more to promote and to create an environment where students feel safe to express their views. Transparency cannot be achieved if students do not feel that they can freely express their beliefs.
Written by: The Editorial Board