The more time I spend in a university setting, the more I’ve begun to think of it as a little political country all its own. The depth of what goes on at any given university is something I never even considered when I stepped into my first class freshman year.
Universities, it seems, are pros at sweeping things quietly under the rug. Recently, I’ve been a little bit disgusted by what’s been allowed to be quietly cleaned up to avoid a bad reputation. Do universities have a responsibility to inform students and the general public when something potentially dangerous is going on? Yes, I believe they do.
On Dec. 2, the New York Times ran an article entitled “Campus Press vs. Colleges: Kentucky Suit Highlights Free-Speech Fight.” An anonymous tip led editors of the campus newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, to the discovery that an associate professor at the University of Kentucky had been allowed to quietly leave his position after having been accused of groping students.
A leaked document and story later, the student newspaper is now being sued by the university.
The editor of the paper said the university president implied that the Kernel had run the story in an attempt to gain readership.
Still reeling a bit from a brutal election cycle, I am sick and tired of newspapers being accused of covering actual news in an attempt to save their dying business. If it is news, it’s the responsibility of the press to investigate and report. We are, after all, the fourth estate.
The fact that stories like this one have to be “dug up” at all is disturbing to me. As long as sexual assaults and harassments like this one are being swept under the rug, universities are contributing to rape culture.
The quiet manner in which many universities deal with sexual harassment and assault forms my opinion of them far more than coming out against the assaulter would.
Recently, the former Director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History Herb Maschner was stripped of his title at his new position at the University of South Florida.
Maschner resigned from his position at ISU after being on the losing end of a sexual harassment lawsuit with a woman who worked for him.
Why was Maschner stripped of all his duties? He came clean to his new boss after learning that an Idaho paper was about to publish an article on the lawsuit, something he failed to mention in the interview process.
Quietly sweeping cases like this out the door allows them to simply move on to another university, and then another.
The fact that he or UK’s associate professor are now other universities’ PR nightmare is not the point.
The point is that they were allowed to leave with no fuss, and in return, were able to find work in another setting – another setting in which to sexually assault or harass.
On Dec. 7, one of my writers sent me a tweet from a local reporter – there was a confirmed case of tuberculosis on the ISU campus. It was only after one of my editors spoke with someone in marketing and communications that we learned the case had been confirmed earlier that week.
In an article put out by Local News 8, it was revealed that the patient was a worker in the Early Learning Center.
This means it’s more than likely that a large number of those 50-something people exposed to the person were children. I honestly believe that had channel 8 not found out about it somehow, the university would not have said a word on the matter.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that those working in public relations are just doing their jobs, but I do believe that the university owes its community a little more transparency.
Where this transparency going to come from? Whose job is it to make sure things like this are brought to the attention of the public?
It’s the job of those pesky news sources I suppose. Those guys going on one wild goose chase after another with the hope of bringing the truth to the people they serve only to be accused of seeking attention for themselves.
If the higher-ups at the University of Kentucky have any sense at all, I suggest they allow the Kentucky Kernel to do its job with the same amount of support it gives its PR department.
After all, had they not decided to sue the campus newspaper, this humble editor at Idaho State University would be none the wiser to the goings on of a campus she’s never visited. Good job avoiding the PR nightmare, guys.