The National Society of Newspaper Columnists has joined with other journalism organizations in expressing concern regarding a policy at institutions in the Texas A&M University System that might result in preventing journalism instructors from telling their students to file open-records requests when completing assignments.
“Journalism associations need to stick together on First Amendment and freedom of information issues,” stated Ben Pollock, NSNC President.
A rule that’s been on the books for years prohibits university employees from making public information requests of the university system while acting in their official capacity. This was recently interpreted by university officials as meaning that a faculty member can not “direct” a student to submit an open-records request.
The interpretation immediately followed stories written by journalism students that uncovered problems in crime reporting and other violations on the Tarleton State campus, part of Texas A&M. Apparently, student journalists using their skills to uncover wrong doing at their own university hit too close to home.
Most of the offending stories were written by the students of journalism instructor Dan Malone, a Pulitzer Prize winner who was hired by Tarleton to bring their journalism program to the level of other top-ranking university journalism programs.
“We believe that interpretation violates not only the Public Information Act, but the free-speech rights and academic freedom of the instructors,” stated the letter sent by journalism organizations to urge the university to reconsider the policy in question.
“It is in fact the duty of journalism instructors to teach their students – as indeed all citizens should be taught – about how to obtain public records under state law,” said the journalism organizations who represent thousands of journalists and journalism educators.
A&M has treaded slowly and carefully in enforcing the policy since so many newspapers, TV journalists, and websites are now watching them.