Marquette Warrior Blogger Threatened, Bullied by Provost, Dean and Department Chair
This was the meeting we were summoned to by Pauly.
Pauly, in an e-mail to us, said the meeting was about “some of the ongoing potential conflicts between your role as Marquette professor and employee, and independent blogger-journalist.”
The bottom line: all three – Pauly, Rossi and McCormick – want us to entirely stop blogging about student organizations. Well . . . not entirely. Pauly made it clear that it is fine with him if we commend student organizations. That’s right: a former journalism instructor is demanding biased journalism!
Pauly claimed to have no problem with our blogging about faculty and administrators, but claimed our blogging about student affairs has been out of line. How much of this was a genuine concern (some of it probably was) and how much was the result of an ideological bias from liberal administrators toward a conservative blogger (there was almost certainly some of that too) we can’t say.
Two specific instances were mentioned. First, we called the listed home number of a student, talked to (apparently) her father and left a polite message asking for a return call, explaining that we were working on a blog post about The Vagina Monologues (the student was listed as the Marquette contact on vday.org). Apparently, the student’s parents freaked. All three administrators (Pauly, Rossi and McCormick) condemned the call saying that faculty should never call the parents of students. They said that the parents should have been in Fr. Wild’s office loudly complaining about it.
We replied that we were calling the listed number of the student (and had no way of knowing that she was living with her parents), and that’s it’s standard practice for a journalist to call a potential source at home. But Pauly, Rossi and McCormick explicitly stated that we should somehow have known that the parents would freak. We were accused of merely offering “rationalizations.”
All thee insisted that we don’t have any of the prerogatives of a journalist, since the role of a professor trumps that of a faculty blogger.
The other issue raised was the fact that we had mentioned a student’s research paper, and were accused of “criticizing” it. In reality, we did not mention the student’s name, and the point of the blog post was that “‘gender studies’ has been added to ‘women’s studies’ [which] signals a move toward a homosexual emphasis, as shown by one of the papers completed by a WGST fellow this summer . . . .” The blog post was, quite simply, a comment on the fact that the Women’s and Gender Studies program has begun to slip “queer studies” into the university.
Pauly, Rossi and McCormick lamely replied that people could find the name of the student (we included the title of the paper, which could be googled), and that some people knew that we had supposedly “criticized the student.” In fact, nothing was said that was favorable or unfavorable about the student.
McCormick, using a metaphor that was supremely insulting to students, insisted that student activities are a “sandbox,” and that faculty should never comment on what student organizations do.
We pointed out that, in the issues they brought up, Marquette as an institution had been the issue. The Vagina Monologues will be sponsored by Social and Cultural Sciences, and the post that “criticized student research” was about the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
We further pointed out that when students do high-profile public things, there is a legitimate news interest in what they do. In fact, it serves students well to learn that when they do highly visible controversial public things in some official role, they might get criticized.
Further, what student organizations do has consequences for the University. When Fr. Wild announced that Marquette is going to provide domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian couples, he explicitly cited a resolution calling for that from Marquette University Student Government. If student organizations can affect Marquette University policy, it’s hard to see how they should be exempt from scrutiny.
As the meeting moved on, Rossi and McCormick became more ad hominem, Rossi accusing us of having a “blind spot,” and McCormick asserting that nobody he knew felt that our blogging about student organizations was acceptable. Since we’ve gotten multiple supporting e-mails, that says more about McCormick’s circle of friends than about what “everybody believes.”
All three implied (and sometimes stated) that we had been guilty of some violation of professional ethics, but could not explain what that would be, beyond McCormick’s “sandbox” metaphor, and the general notion that faculty should never publicly say anything negative about a student, even a student in a very public role doing something controversial.
We were willing to make only one concession: we assured the group that we would be more careful in the future about mentioning student’s names. (It typically isn’t that significant who the student is anyway.) But that wasn’t enough.
They hung tough with the position that we should never comment on student affairs, and we were threatened by both Pauly and McCormick saying that we would “be here [in a meeting like this] again” if we persisted in blogging about the activities of student groups.
Needless to say, we will continue to blog about activities on campus, and when the actions of student organizations have substantial news interest, we will report them. And we will be critical when appropriate.