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Editorial: CSU, student media deserve more transparency from university administration

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Collegian | Colin Shepherd
The Collegian newspaper

Editor’s Note: This is an editorial. Editorials do not reflect the view of all employees of The Collegian but instead represent a stance taken by The Collegian’s editorial board, which consists of the editor in chief, the content managing editor, the executive editor and other members of the editorial staff. 

When rumors popped on Twitter the morning of Feb. 19 that Colorado State University Athletic Director Joe Parker had been removed from his position, the details were murky at best. Thirty minutes later, reports from the Coloradoan and then The Denver Post validated the hearsay, confirming Parker’s departure through unnamed sources.

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As journalists, we aspire to uphold the truth first and foremost, and that is the priority of the editorial staff of The Collegian. When anyone in a prominent university administration position leaves, we consider it breaking news. It is a point of pride of both this staff and last year’s staff that when former President Joyce McConnell parted ways with the university and when current President Amy Parsons was hired, our breaking news coverage made us the first media outlet to report those changes.

Breaking news for college journalists often involves several staffers completely rearranging their days, frantically running around on phone calls and sometimes missing classes, all for that glimmer of hope that we, the university’s newspaper not by ownership but by coverage proximity, will be the first and best to report any changes at the institution we all attend.

When the news about Parker broke, The Collegian was missing one key thing to go ahead and publish breaking news: verbal confirmation that the administrative change had occurred.

To uphold ethical standards, our staff went right to CSU’s public relations experts to get a statement or at the very least confirmation that Parker had left the university. Not knowing who to talk to, we were redirected through a seemingly endless loop of phone calls. Our journalists left messages and emails, called any public phone number we could find and even visited several offices in person, only to be turned away. We weren’t the only ones left without answers; CSU students, faculty and staff also received no confirmation.

We published our coverage before receiving any public communications from the university. Three hours later, student media was sent a SOURCE article published as a statement on Parker’s departure. No further comment was provided. Like so many times before, students were notified of a major staffing change but left with more questions than answers.

This is not intended to criticize the PR process in the slightest. The PR team at CSU is home to many wonderful supporters of student media, some of whom worked at student media. They provide essential resources for media coverage often in the form of press releases and source contacts.

The Parker situation is indicative of a bigger problem at CSU. It demonstrates how little students and other stakeholders are meant to know about our leaders and their mistakes.

When information concerning the departure of a prominent university figure is withheld, whether that be the athletic director, the president or the football coach, a disservice is done. Secrecy is a breeding ground for rumors, misinformation and distrust.

While waiting for official news about Parker, staffers working on the story searched social media and called sources for a confirmation while actively watching speculation run rampant online. The silence brought out the worst instincts of gossip, rumors and intrigue.

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Speculation also followed the departure of McConnell, and to this day, there’s no clear answer as to why she and the university “parted ways.” People are inherently fascinated with drama, and without clear answers, they take vague statements and make salacious assumptions.

Parsons makes $600,000 a year. Parker made $439,192. If Parker were to be removed from the university entirely, his contract would require that the university pay him $750,000. When McConnell was removed, her buyout clause was $1.5 million, and when football coach Steve Addazio was fired, he was owed $3 million.

CSU is a public institution funded by public funds — some funds that go to paying the salaries of the most prestigious and highly paid positions at this university. Every student and member of Fort Collins has contributed to the salaries of our administration.

Public relations is an essential part of the CSU community and serves the university well. But when prominent employees who make upwards of half a million dollars annually are removed, don’t we — the public community and the media — have the right to know more than just what a short, empty press release can provide? Don’t we deserve answers that silence rumors and build trust?

CSU is an institution that every member of The Collegian is proud to attend. As students, we are all invested in the things that happen here. We take the task of covering breaking stories with utmost respect, delicacy and neutrality. Our interest goes beyond that of reporters as students who are affected by every decision the administration makes. In exchange, the university owes us and the community more transparency.

Reach The Collegian’s editorial staff at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian

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