SPLC issues letter of concern

A national advocate for student journalism is calling for University President Bruce Speck to end what it calls a “short-sighted ” and “harmful” media policy.

The Student Press Law Center faxed a letter of concern to Speck and Sharon Odem, secretary to the president and the Board of Governors earlier today. That letter asked Speck to meet with student editors of The Chart and “hold a clear-the-air meeting at which you may air whatever concerns you have about the way your administration has been portrayed in the newspaper.” The letter also criticized the policy as the wrong approach.

“A University is an enormous collection of enterprises and personalities under a single

umbrella,” the letter said. “There undoubtedly will be times in the history of every institution when adverse publicity makes the school look bad. But a college that treats its employees and students with distrust, and elevates image control over transparency, does not merely “look bad” It is bad.”

The policy, first articulated in a June 17, 2008 campus e-mail reads, in part: “If a representative from the media (TV, radio, newspaper, or other medium) contacts you or arrives on campus to speak with you or students, please refer them first to University Relations & Marketing before providing information. We certainly have no interest in impeding the flow of information to the media, but we do need to follow these interactions so we can be aware of the various stories being produced that impact the University and its reputation and do our part to provide appropriate campus security.”

University officials, at the direction of Speck, began enforcing the policy earlier this month. Since then, Speck has declined all of The Chart’s interview requests and has instead directed all questions to Rod Surber, director of University Relations and Marketing.

“The president has seemed to go into seclusion,” said Brennan Stebbins, Chart editor-in-chief. “We will keep asking for interviews in the most respectful and professional way possible. But we will keep asking and we will seek answers.”

The SPLC letter was signed by that organization’s executive director, Frank LoMonte, and cited The Chart’s history of service to the University.

“We hope that you will promptly rescind this enforcement directive and instead promote

a climate of openness in which journalism at Missouri Southern is recognized for what it is —  an award-winning program that brings credit to the University,” the letter said. “No one is asking that you enjoy dealing with journalists, but it is neither consistent with your position as a high-ranking public official, nor with the best interests of the University, for you to govern behind closed shutters.”