On Thursday, USC struck yet another blow to the values of transparency, empathy and moral high ground it claims it wants its new president to espouse. A Daily Trojan reporter entered Town and Gown for a general listening session meant to gather community input on the University’s next leader, but they were instructed by a University spokesperson to not take notes or write down quotes for an article. The spokesperson explained that our reporter was welcome to attend as a student — but not as a journalist. They then instructed the Daily Trojan to join other media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, to instead interview students following the event.
This is not the first time USC has deliberately ignored student voices. On Aug. 30, the Daily Trojan editorial board condemned the University’s choice to exclude student representatives from a 23-person search committee tasked with the selection of USC’s next president. Trustees and administrators failed to include students in the process, despite explicit advocacy from both the undergraduate and graduate student governments that students be given a stake in the decision-making.
Instead, in what the Daily Trojan editorial board deemed a hollow consolation prize, Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso invited students and members of the community to listening sessions to share recommendations with the committee. The first of these forums took place Wednesday at Town and Gown and was exclusively attended by 600 student leaders. Bolstered by the fact that the members of the presidential search committee present did not take questions or respond to student comments, student speakers said they told the committee they valued transparency and accountability from the next president but told the Daily Trojan they felt their voices were still not being heard by the current administration.
The University said that its decision to bar journalists was to ensure that speakers “feel comfortable sharing their perspectives freely, which is much easier to do in a session that is not being recorded or reported on.” But it is within our right as USC’s independent student-run newspaper, to cover a public forum open to all members of the USC community.
Administrators’ decision to impose restrictions on student media coverage — on this crucial event that exists to seek the USC community’s insights — further silences student voices. In restricting student reporting on comments at a public forum, USC diminishes the value it places on dialogue that must occur between students and administrators. Students’ direct comments to the presidential search committee should be published to hold administrators accountable for what is said in these listening sessions. This dialogue which exists to improve our University beyond the search for a new president — cannot exist in a vacuum, at a time and place USC deems convenient.
We, as student journalists dedicated to covering this University, should not be treated like any other news outlet. Barring the Los Angeles Times is one thing, but the University went too far by banning its own student journalists. We are — first and foremost — students whose needs and concerns have been overshadowed, whose questions have gone unanswered. If the Daily Trojan cannot provide objective information to fellow USC students, the University will never achieve the “transparency” it so supposedly desires.
USC has already failed to include a student representative on its search committee. It is now imperative that it recognizes the crucial role student media serves in disseminating information to our peers, parents and alumni, who all have a stake in this University but were not present at these forums. The student press is an indispensable part of the ongoing discussion necessary to reform and reshape this campus, highlighting the concerns of a student body that has been left in the dark, scandal after scandal.
Furthermore, after the Daily Trojan tweeted news of the media ban, the same USC representative asked our reporter to delete the tweet. According to the Student Press Law Center, student publications have no obligation to remove material from their websites or social media as long as it is neither defamatory nor an invasion of individual privacy. “The fact that someone finds it embarrassing or bothersome does not obligate you to take it down,” the SPLC website states.
Presumably, the University is embarrassed and bothered to have been called out on its exclusion first of student voices and now of student press from being involved in the presidential search. But asking a student newspaper to censor its independent — not to mention legally obtained — reporting on indisputable facts is a new low, even for USC and its not-so-illustrious history of scandals. This is a blatant disregard for the very democratic principles on which student media was established. We stand by our decision to refuse the University’s groundless request that we delete our Twitter post.
Once again, USC is attempting to shield its decision-making processes from the public, perpetuating a culture of secrecy and confidentiality in a search that requires our entire community’s attention. The Daily Trojan exists as a watchdog for the University and by asking us to stop doing our jobs, or by barring us from being able to report on matters central to the well-being of the student body, the administration is asking for unimpeded liberty to act as it pleases behind closed doors.
We are tired of being talked down to, excluded, repeatedly silenced and, now, flatly censored. We will not allow the University and its obfuscatory tendencies to stop us from sharing important stories or reporting breaking news relevant to the community we serve.
Our voices matter, and we will not back down.
Daily Trojan Fall 2018 Editorial Board