No, I’m not talking about the arrest of three of our students for making racist threats against African-American students on campus. Rather, I’m quoting from a recent New York Times editorial, which begins
People who follow politics know Quinnipiac University as the home of the polling institute that bears its name. But lately it has been making a name for itself — a bad name — for a different reason.
It goes on to condemn our administration’s continuing efforts to silence an alternative news source on campus, and its failure to clearly support open discourse. It calls for an expression of support for these ideals from the administration, and I think we can assume, by extension, support for both the Society for Professional Journalists and the Quad News.
This is the sort of Public Relations week university presidents dread, and PR professionals–if they are good–live for. After all, it’s a chance to prove your salt. Unfortunately, there’s only so much lipstick you can put on a pit bull (isn’t that the phrase?), and until the administration finally admits to being wrong (and staying wrong even when the whole world–including the faculty of the university–was telling them just how wrong they were), and begins to make public and substantial amends, they could be looking at a devastating long-term impact on the reputation of the university. Even as it stands, that reputation is in peril. The hard-fought boost provided by the efforts of the polling institute could be largely undone by bad publicity about an administration that seems inept in the face of two scandals.
And although the stories have not been reported together, yet, it’s pretty clear that they are linked. The reason for the original conflict, it seems to me, was the campus paper’s desire to report on the administration’s handling of a previous racial incident. While no administration likes the role of the press as a watchdog and the Fourth Estate, one of the advantages of this function is that it provides an opportunity for course correction. Rather than seeing the reporting as a chance to get out in front of the racial issues on campus, the administration instead saw it as an airing of dirty laundry, a problem best kept secret so as to not affect applications and rankings. This was a serious error. The reporters for the Chronicle reported what they saw, and readers correctly surmised that the administration’s response to racial incidents on campus was ineffectual. The events of the last week serve as a demonstration of this.
The actions of these students are inexcusable, and they should be ashamed. But I think it would be wrong to not assign some culpability to the administration, and by extension to the community as a whole, for not doing enough to counter bigotry on the campus. This did not come out of the blue. We had forewarning. And rather than deal with it head on, some on the campus chose to shoot the messengers. Now is the time to embrace open discussion, to assert the communities dedication to fundamental values like free speech and equality, rather than equivocate about the privileges of a private school being beyond constitutional guarantees. We have an opportunity, while the eyes of the world are upon us, to turn this around and even to our advantage. We can go from being seen as a campus that is home to censorship and bigotry (however dimly that may reflect the reality of our university) to being known for being especially open to a free discourse among community that values diversity. But that can only happen with leadership willing to make it happen.