Our View is a staff editorial produced collaboratively by the entire Rocket Staff. Any views expressed in the editorial are the opinions of the entire staff.
To review our editorial policy, which includes our blotter policy, click here.
We bet you would like to know what is going on around campus. We, the journalists of The Rocket, are just as curious.
But, if racist attacks, COVID-19, accidents, administrative replacements and whether someone is an employee at this university have one thing in common, it’s, “Don’t say anything and it will eventually go away.”
Most of the university’s reactions to events have been underwhelming and inadequate. SRU has a history of being reactive as opposed to being proactive. This is evident through the administration’s response to events over the past two years.
In an email to SRU stakeholders Saturday morning, Dean of Students Karla Fonner broke down the accidents that occurred the day before.
“Slippery Rock University has experienced an unusual series of student-related accidents within the last 24 hours that have resulted in significant or life-threatening injuries to those students who were involved,” Fonner said.
While we were told the injuries were significant and life-threatening, how many injuries, where these accidents took place and the nature of them were never specified.
But this is not the first time the university announced major news during that week with seemingly zero details. On April 4, faculty and staff received an email from SRU President William Behre announcing in just one sentence that Abbey Zink was replaced with Michael Zieg as interim provost.
The reason why she was replaced has yet to be disclosed. The university even refuses to say if Zink is still an employee of the university, despite SRU being a public institution.
However, Behre did request everyone join him in thanking Zieg for “lending his skills and knowledge to this vital role.”
The Rocket has worked hard to pry information from university documents and employees. Yet, instead of being met with welcoming transparency, we are often told we must file Right-to-Know requests, which can take more than a month, after deadline extension requests, to get an answer.
At least twice, we have had to appeal denials for university documents. In one of those cases, the university turned over the requested documents. In others, SRU has invoked the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
The university is so reactive that they are often in a defensive posture toward the campus community they swear to support. When SRU hosted an open forum in response to the Zoom bombing attacks in February 2021, they spent nearly half an hour boasting about everything they do for minority students, instead of discussing the incident at hand.
Students at the forum and The Rocket staff called out the administration for its opaque messaging. Behre acknowledged this misstep that night, admitting himself that “dialogue is best when it’s ongoing, not just when it’s in crisis.”
“By not providing a greater level of detail, we actually created a situation where the individuals who were victims of this event were forced to repeat the story over and over and have to relive it,” Behre said of the Zoom bombing. “That was terribly unfortunate, and I’m sorry that occurred.”
It’s not just about being first or implementing policies before incidents happen, but rather being communicative after the fact with clear, quality responses.
Students should not have to hear about a tragic event through an anonymous social media platform. It’s incredibly unfortunate that Yik Yak provides more information than an SRU Communication email.
When we don’t hear anything from official sources or said sources attempt to conceal information from the public, unreliable sources gain power and shape the narrative.
The lack of clear communication also makes the university look weak, as if the administration doesn’t know exactly what is going on either. Students–the only reason the university exists and who pay thousands of dollars to attend–feel excluded rather than informed.
The university needs to stop worrying about its public image and be concerned about the campus community losing faith in it after every attempt to hide what should be public knowledge. We shouldn’t have to fight so diligently with a public institution for transparency.
Lack of transparency has a clear link to the spread of misinformation, something that could be easily avoided. The staff and faculty are left in the dark, even though they are intended to be the leaders and are supposed to serve the students.
Despite these roadblocks, we have not stopped chasing after the truth. After this past week, many of you reached out to The Rocket to share information or ask what we know and when we would be reporting it.
To those of you who reached out, thank you. And to those who wonder why we don’t cover a particular topic or have a particular fact; A journalist is only as good as their sources.
Our relentless reporting proves us to be a serious, trustworthy news outlet. Never hesitate to reach out if there is something you believe the campus should know.
At the online forum after the Zoom bombing just over a year ago, then-Special Assistant to the President Terrence Mitchell laid out programs that could significantly improve the culture and communication on campus, beyond just diversity and inclusion aspects.
“Hopefully, in three or four years, you’ll have a campus that is having dialogue in different ways,” Mitchell said. “And be deeply understanding their role in conversations when we’re trying to build a community.”
Yet, we’re still waiting.