San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Editorial: University has a clear transparency problem

Illustration by Maritza Garcia

The issue: SDSU’s administration has become resistant to transparency and accountability under President Sally Roush. When it said it would not name the members of the Aztec mascot and moniker task force, the university inexplicably edited a weeks-old news release.

Our take: By stifling the public and the free press, this university risks losing the confidence of its students, faculty and alumni. It is imperative those in administration remember they are public servants and owe it to the community they serve to be open and transparent.

Since San Diego State President Sally Roush began her year as a placeholder president, this university has consistently attempted to stifle, spin and outright ignore attempts by The Daily Aztec to report on the issues affecting this community.

Some instances were mundane, or easily written off as miscommunications. However, a pattern of behavior has emerged that suggests this administration thinks it is above examination and accountability.

In a mid-January email to students soliciting nominations for the Aztec mascot and moniker task force, the university said it would announce the members by Feb. 2. A Jan. 18 news release published on the university’s public relations website, SDSU NewsCenter, said the same.

However, by the third week of February, the university reversed itself and said it would not publicly name who was on the task force. Sometime before Feb. 19, the NewsCenter article was edited to remove mention of the university’s assurance to name the task force.

How anyone thought this was a good idea, or would not be noticed, is beyond this board’s knowledge. NewsCenter is not a news site — it’s pure P.R. However, this blatant attempt to rewrite the past and cover its tracks is indicative of a level of hubris that should concern the entire university and CSU community at large.

The reversal of its commitment to be transparent in its execution of the University Senate’s resolution is only the latest in a series of instances when this university, given the choice of transparency or obfuscation, chose the latter. This latest bungle by President Roush’s administration serves as the cherry on top of a year of public relations missteps — such as failing to notify The Daily Aztec of a news conference — and questionable responses to student media inquiries.

  • During the Fall 2017 semester, The Daily Aztec could not get answers from the Undocumented Resource Area to basic questions, such as when it would open to students.
  • When a fraternity was kicked off campus, the university coordinated with the frat’s national office to ignore numerous inquiries into nature of the chapter’s infractions. A California Public Records Act request revealed the university had been protecting the frat for years, and continued to do so even after it was booted from campus.
  • Students told The Daily Aztec about several instances when the housing office gave conflicting information to them about mold found in Maya Residence Hall, including some cases in which they said they had to involve their parents.
  • The university’s search for its next president also took place behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes and questions from those poised to be most affected by the selection — faculty, staff and students.

SDSU’s attempts to keep The Daily Aztec in the dark follows a national trend of universities using inflated public relations and advertising budgets to control narratives and neuter the reporting of student newspapers.

An article published Feb. 16 by the Southern Poverty Law Center detailed several incidents across the country of universities deploying an array of tactics to subvert student media, from public relation sites masquerading as news — such as SDSU NewsCenter, which claims to be the “official” site for university news — to implied threats against student media funding.

The fact that a story published in SDSU NewsCenter can be edited well afterwards, with no notice of a change, should serve as a signal to anyone watching that ethics are not high on its list of priorities.

These tactics serve only to erode trust in an institution, as evidenced by the backlash — from all sides — to this university’s newfound allergy to transparency.

The selection of Adela de la Torre as president has sent many on the political right reeling. One widely-shared article in City Journal — a New York magazine published by the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute for Policy Research — called de la Torre’s hiring an example of the “diversity bureaucracy (swallowing) an entire university,” and “a peerless example of identity politics and the ballooning student-service industry.”

The accuracy of that assertion notwithstanding, the university — and CSU — could have avoided such critiques with an open and transparent hiring process.

De la Torre brings her own transparency baggage with her. A report prepared for the University of California Board of Regents found de la Torre withheld emails from an investigation into whether her rapidly increasing UC Davis salary was due to improper influence. The investigation cleared de la Torre of wrongdoing. However, her reluctance to comply with investigators does not inspire confidence in her willingness to be transparent.

We are living through a volatile moment in higher education. Ideologues see American universities as the front lines of a culture war. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white nationalist postings on campuses nationwide is up 300 percent — from 41 incidents in 2016 to 147 in 2017. The lack of leadership from Manchester Hall in the wake of such flyers being posted at SDSU last month does not inspire confidence in the president’s ability or willingness to confront difficult issues head-on.

It is not too late for President Roush to right the wrongs of the previous seven months. Release the names of those on the mascot task force. Encourage administrators to respond to Daily Aztec reporters —the only independent voices of 35,000 students — without the need to compel documents via CPRA. And, President Roush, on your way out, advise incoming President de la Torre to do the same. This culture of avoidance, distrust and deflection must end.

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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
Editorial: University has a clear transparency problem