A scathing April 23 editorial in The Daily Titan blasted Cal State Fullerton's commitment to transparency. The college newspaper took aim at Christopher Bugbee of Strategic Communications for dragging down news stories by allegedly causing undue delays, insisting on questions being posed by email, with responses returned sometimes a month later.
"In recent semesters, CSUF media relations officials have developed a shameful track record of delaying and denying inquiries from Daily Titan reporters," the editorial begins. "A great deal of information important to the interests of the CSUF's students, faculty, staff and parents has gone unpublished."
The college newspaper states that it's not just the big stories that reporters are given the runaround on. Even articles on moving from grass lawns to drought friendly plants entailed obstacles with one writer going back-and-forth with Bugbee for weeks without ever getting to talk directly with an administrator. Plants!
"While the timeline for the University to respond to inquiries may not always meet the Daily Titan's expectations, we do not withhold information," Bugbee writes to the Weekly. "Nothing is being blocked and no one is stonewalling."
But it's not just CSUF's newspaper that gets the waiting game and stories on plants are the least of worries. When the Weekly covered an alleged rape that rocked the campus a day after a rape culture protest, it took five school days to answer four related questions by email.
"Please be advised that for all queries of a non-emergency nature, faculty and staff have a minimum of three work days (Monday through Friday, when the University is in session) to respond to media requests for information," Bugbee wrote at the time. "Please factor this time into your planning and deadlines." When the responses didn't come when promised Bugbee followed with, "we won't stiff you and this isn't a stall," without any prompting or accusation of the sorts.
Editor-in-Chief Samuel Mountjoy says his paper's editorial has been met with great response from students and faculty. The Academic Senate also passed a resolution in support of The Daily Titan yesterday morning. Jonathan Taylor, a CSUF geography professor and faculty adviser with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, read the piece and decided to follow up with Bugbee himself, an exchange that had the media relations person denying the editorial's claims.
"I'm concerned about a lack of transparency on campus and that the administration is leaning in an authoritarian direction," Taylor tells the Weekly. "For the Daily Titan to be that upset, it means that there is something deeply wrong with media relations on campus."
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Strategic Communication sees nothing of the sorts. "We believe our framework for managing inquiries from news organizations like the Daily Titan is consistent with practices followed by similarly scaled institutions across the public, nonprofit, and business sectors," Bugbee says.
For now, The Daily Titan is hoping that university president Mildred Garcia will make changes under her tenure. Mountjoy claims his writers can't be the eyes and ears for students with the current system in place. "We know that we are going to get such resistance," he says, "that it's almost caused a hesitation in a lot of reporters to take on the huge issues."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2