Editor’s Note: College employees, news outlets deserve legitimate communication


Editor’s Note: New CFO needs to bring financial confidence back

By Editor-in-Chief

Throughout the summer, The Chronicle made a goal of pursuing in-depth campus coverage as aggressively as it would during the academic year. As massive changes hit the college during the last few months—collegewide layoffs, Mark Kelly’s departure and lack of announcements regarding several departments and centers—our reporters and editors were not on summer vacation.

The first issue of the semester was no different as a new batch of reporters looked for the most important campus news and its effects on the community.

During the summer months and into the Fall Semester, it’s no exaggeration to say The Chronicle was met with disrespect, including interview denials, attempts to influence coverage and ask about or forbid specific interview questions. In one case, an in-person interview with a top administrator was canceled minutes beforehand.

However, this poor communication climate was not exclusive to The Chronicle. Columbia experienced faculty and staff outcry during both the administrative merger of Theatre and Dance departments, as reported Aug. 5 by The Chronicle, and the dismantling of the Center for Innovation and Teaching Excellence, as reported Aug. 17 by The Chronicle. CiTE’s elimination was not widely known until a passionate Facebook post was made Aug. 3 by former employees, despite the administrative decision being made in earlysummer. Both the center’s web page and section in the directory were removed before the announcement was made.

The college’s higher-ups eventually requested faculty and staff input on the merger decision and future faculty development, but only after the fact. This desire for retroactive feedback is nothing more than a saving-face tactic that will likely no longer appease the disgruntled college community.

A source also provided The Chronicle an email from Facebook indicating the college reported the CiTE’s unofficial page for copyright infringement and had it removed shortly after The Chronicle’s report, in which Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden called the Facebook post “unprofessional.”

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this lack of communication and cooperation did not stop at controversial topics, it also was present following The Chronicle’s interview requests for positive stories. This proves a lack of robust communication on all fronts hinders any information from leaving administrative doors.

While working on a story honoring the life of the late trustee Art Sussman, whose death was reported Aug. 21 by The Chronicle, Board Chairman Bill Wolf was almost not made available by the college spokeswoman. The reporter was forwarded a mass email in lieu of a live conversation but was able to secure an interview after repeated requests from both her and myself.

Considering the importance of personal stories like obituaries, a generic emailed statement is insufficient and could easily be seen as disrespectful to loved ones.

Because the college’s communications team is trying to mask any potentially troubling news, it often ignores or underprioritizes any good or vital news. Current and prospective Columbia stakeholders, including potential students, could then easily miss it. This is dangerous during a time of declining enrollment and institutional trust issues.

More reasonable interactions with college employees and news outlets is needed to avoid confusion and missed opportunities for transparency, something Columbia often cites as a priority. If the upcoming semester continues down this path, it’s not only transparency that will be lost. Instead, greater costs could be paid: employee trust, institutional pride and, most importantly, enrollment.