Two reporters from the Queens Chronicle were denied access to President Davies’ campus update speech on March 19, because, she said, the updates are for faculty and staff only.
Davies denied two requests from the Chronicle to cover the meeting on behalf of students and the entire campus. The Chronicle maintained that the meeting should be open because it included all faculty and staff and topics of interest to students, the University’s main constituency. Students are not invited, she said in an email.
“Our campus update tomorrow is not a public meeting,” Davies said in the email. “ … It is a meeting for our faculty and staff.”
The presentation, which is held twice every year, invites all faculty and staff members to discuss building and financial updates and hear reports from vice presidents.
Topics discussed at the March 19 meeting, said a source who attended the meeting, included the introduction of new faculty and staff; the progress of the 2017 strategic plan; praise for and how the Living Lean initiative is working; the possible restructuring of academic positions, departments and committees; and the review of existing facilities, such as renovations of residence hall bathrooms.
Davies said in an email that she is “always available for an interview for the Chronicle on specific issues.” Last semester she was interviewed about her State of the University address.
“The speech I gave in the fall, the ‘State of the University’ is decidedly focused on a broader audience, which is why I was absolutely comfortable and pleased with [the Chronicle’s] interest,” said Davies.
Dr. Michael Kobre, professor of English and one of the presenters, agreed with Davies’ decision.
“I’ve got to say…that I agree with the President’s office on this,” said Kobre, who is Faculty Senate president. “…The level of detail just won’t make sense to someone coming into the discussion for the first time.”
Dr. John Downey, dean of students, said that while his first instinct would be to allow students to attend such meetings, there is a time and a place for addresses to students and addresses to larger groups of employees only.
Though he is a proponent of the closed-door policy for some events, Downey believes that students are usually kept in the loop about current events on campus.
“I’ve never been in a situation at this university where students weren’t informed at the appropriate time,” he said. To Downey, student access to meetings “depends on the circumstance.”
Other faculty and staff, however, say they believe students should be allowed to attend campus update meetings.
“Campus newspapers have historically been a fundamental link in the communication between campus administrations and students,” said history professor Dr. Jennifer Bratyanski.
Students, too, hold strong opinions about their inclusion in such events as well as their right to know what exactly is going on.
“I do agree particular students should be allowed to attend,” said SGA Treasurer James Vaughn. “However, those students should be campus leaders of extremely high caliber, students who have shown an interest in the improvement of the university as well as a respect for those staff members working towards that improvement.
The right to a free media is guaranteed in the First Amendment, although even public bodies, such as county commissioners and city councilors, have the authority to declare certain proceedings private, excluding both journalists and civilians. Supreme Court cases have consistently upheld the rights of campus news publications to both access information and publish the truth. However, private institutions such as Queens are given more leeway in determining what can be made available to students and the public.